Handbook of Health Communication

By Teresa L. Thompson; Alicia M. Dorsey et al. | Go to book overview

13
Social Support, Social
Networks, and Health
Terrance L. Albrecht
College of Medicine
H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute
University of South Florida

University of Illinois

Social support provides general social therapy for all types of incongruities one may encounter, soothing and relieving the symptoms of the person encountering the incongruity. The absence of social support seems to be an incongruity of considerable significance for most people…. Social support provides each person with a communication network that is a safe base. Here he [sic] can be accepted whether he succeeds or fails in other networks. Here he can retreat to take stock of himself and prepare to meet ‘life. ’ Here he is accepted as a ‘whole person, ’ and all his various qualities, roles, desires, and the like are of interest. He is not simply a role player whose private life is of no concern to others.

—Moss (1973, pp. 236–237)

Nearly three decades ago, in Illness, Immunity, and Social Interaction, Moss (1973) described the function of social support as “social therapy”; that is, a process occurring in communication networks, operating for the purpose of helping people to cope with “incongruities. ” Though the specific terminology has changed over the years, researchers across the social sciences, epidemiology, public health, and medicine have long recognized the importance of supportive communication as a necessary condition for the quality of life and for healthful living (e.g., Berkman & Syme, 1979; Cassel, 1976; Cobb, 1976; Moss, 1973).

Social support is a communication behavior, as fundamental to interaction as the communication behaviors of informing, persuading, or teaching. Social support is a process embedded in structures of ordinary relationships in social life (Goldsmith, McDermott, & Alexander, 2000). It also is the foundation for extraordinary deeds in situations of extreme distress (i.e., the rescue of the Jews during the Holocaust and other genocides; Albrecht, 1994a; Gourevitch, 1998). Empirical studies of supportive interactions and influence gathered momentum during the 1980s (e.g., Albrecht, Irey, & Mundy, 1982; House,

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