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Public Health research explores effectiveness of online cancer support groups

Stephen Lepore,Ph.D.,Professor of Public Health and Director of Public Health PhD Programs at the College of Public Health, was recently awarded a $360,000 two-year research grant from the National Cancer Institute to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of innovative online support groups for breast cancer survivors that emphasize opportunities for both getting and giving help.

Dr. Lepore and his team aim to enhance the effectiveness of online support groups by turning support seekers into support providers. The project is based on the “helper therapy principle,” which emphasizes the psychological benefits of giving (vs. receiving) help.

Working with the Cancer Support Community, the largest provider of free psychosocial support services for cancer survivors in North America, Dr. Lepore and his team are creating online support groups that provide structured helping opportunities (blogs, outreach) and coaching on how to provide support for others in an online environment.

This is the first study to evaluate an online support group with a focus on the mutual exchange of help rather than the conventional focus on self-help.

Co-investigators include Temple Public Health Professor Adam Davey, Ph.D, Emeritus Professor Mort Lieberman of UCSF, and Drs. Joanne Buzaglo and Mitch Golant of the Research & Training Institute of the Cancer  Support Community.