Defense Date

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Kathleen Ingram

Abstract

Life after treatment for cancer has become a primary focus for health service provider communities as the number of individuals living longer grows. The medical and psychosocial needs of cancer survivors have been prominent in the popular and scientific literature. A major focus for psychologists has been the relationships and social support networks of individuals diagnosed with cancer. The current study explored a recent phenomenon within this realm, the use of Internet resources for online support. The purpose of this study was to compare social support received online and social support received offline among people diagnosed with cancer who use the Internet for cancer-related support. Specifically, the study first compared types of support received online and offline. Based on the existing literature, the study then explored relationships between offline and online social support and other psychological variables, including positive affect, health-related quality of life, and coping. The research design was cross-sectional, and self-report data were collected from 102 participants who had been diagnosed with cancer. Participants reported a variety of reasons for using cancer-related websites and online communities and provided information regarding types, frequency, and intensity of online activities. Most hypotheses were supported for traditional social support but were not supported for online support. Consistent with hypotheses, total social support received offline was higher than support received online. Emotional support and informational support were significantly higher offline than online. As predicted, participants experienced fewer unsupportive interactions online than offline. Also consistent with the hypotheses, emotional support received from the main support person was positively associated with positive affect and health related quality of life, whereas online emotional support was only positively associated with Focus on the Positive coping. Contrary to the hypotheses, hierarchical regression equations indicated that received informational support was positively associated with avoidant coping. This study contributes to the literature as one of the first studies to explore social support received online in a systematic manner. The results have important research and clinical implications for understanding the distinct and overlapping elements of social support received online and offline by individuals with cancer. Future research directions are also discussed.

Rights

© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

July 2011

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