TARBET, SHEILA FAYE; PHD

                         THE WRIGHT INSTITUTE, 1985

                         PSYCHOLOGY, GENERAL (0621)

                         The effects of group participation upon members of two support groups are explored by use of the
                         interdisciplinary concepts of social network analysis. Two groups were studied: one for those labelled
                         mentally ill and thus coping with a stigmatizing condition, and the other for women experiencing the
                         normal life transition of new motherhood. The groups were studied through participant observation and
                         in-depth interviews. Individuals in each group were interviewed, as were a sample of friends and family
                         members. Interview questions elicited data describing group members' networks before and after group
                         participation. Structural, interactional, and functional dimensions were explored. Marked differences
                         were found between the pre- and postgroup networks of members of both groups. Individuals tended to
                         increase network size through relationships with other group members. Members with infrequent
                         interactions tended to increase the frequency of their social contacts. These changes were greatest for
                         members of the support group composed of former psychiatric patients. For members of both groups,
                         participation was strongly and positively related to feelings of intimacy and understanding generated in
                         group meetings and in interactions with other group members outside the meetings. The groups also
                         facilitated intimacy by increasing understanding between members and their friends and family,
                         especially between new mothers and their husbands. An increase in members' provision of support to
                         others was observed in both groups--especially in the group composed of those labelled mentally ill.
                         Each individual's experience of coping provided him or her with something of value to share with other
                         group members. Three broad means by which the groups changed members' networks were identified:
                         providing supportive interactions in the group itself; positively impacting on interactions in other settings;
                         and providing opportunities to add new members to participants' networks. For each group, descriptions
                         of several patterns of network change were offered. The relationship between these findings and
                         general social trends were discussed as were implications for the mental health field.


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