Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology

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Volume 9 Issue 3 (May/June 1999), Pages 175-245

Peer support for women with breast cancer: the role of empathy and self‐disclosure (pages 217-229)


This study examined how women with breast cancer perceived different styles of peer helping. Forty recently diagnosed breast cancer patients evaluated three audiotaped conversations between a breast cancer patient and an (ex‐patient) volunteer helper; the conversations differed in terms of the empathy and self‐disclosure offered by the helper. The findings supported the first hypothesis, that a helping style involving high self‐disclosure would be positively evaluated only in the presence of high empathy. However, the findings did not support the second hypothesis, that in conversations where high empathy is present, a helping style involving high self‐disclosure would be evaluated more positively than one involving low self‐disclosure. Qualitative data suggested that the helper's ability to listen to the patient and the helper's appropriate sharing of her own experience of breast cancer were both perceived as important components of effective helping. Implications for the training and practice of volunteer helpers are discussed. Copyright © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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