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Book Reviews   |    
Social Support Measurement and Intervention: A Guide for Health and Social Scientists
Reviewed by Matthew C. Johnsen, Ph.D.
Psychiatric Services 2001; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.52.10.1404
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edited by Sheldon Cohen, Lynn G. Underwood, and Benjamin H. Gottlieb; New York, Oxford University Press, 2000, 345 pages, $45

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This book was designed to serve as a resource for those working on the development of state-of-the-art techniques for social support assessment and intervention in studies of physical and psychiatric illness. Given the theoretical foundation provided in the book and the almost encyclopedic discussion of a wide range of social support measures, the editors provide a valuable service for researchers and practitioners who are interested in the mechanisms by which social support influences individual health and mental health outcomes.

Part 1 of the book contains a brief review, by the editors, of theoretical perspectives on the relationship between social relationships and health. Part 2, which contains four chapters, addresses the measurement of social support. A chapter on social support theory and measurement provides an overview of the stress and coping, social constructionist, and relationship perspectives, underscoring the importance of theory to the measurement and operationalization of social support measures.

The other chapters in part 1 catalog measures of social integration, social networks, perceived and received social support, relationship properties, and interactions that are relevant to social support. Although the measures themselves are not provided, the discussions contain enough detail for readers to proceed in the right direction to address particular types of research questions.

The four chapters of part 3 discuss the selection, use, and empirical bases of several social support interventions. An excellent overview of the selection and planning of support interventions is followed by chapters on support groups, one-to-one support interventions, and optimization of natural supports. The breadth of the measurement chapters contrasts sharply with the tight focus of these later chapters, perhaps reflecting the lag between the substantial progress that has been made in measurement on the one hand and our understanding of how to implement effective programs that apply these advanced measurement techniques on the other.

One strength of this volume is its multidisciplinary character. Its chapters provide excellent theoretical and practical overviews from a wide range of disciplines—sociology, psychology, psychiatry, and health services research—bringing into juxtaposition perspectives that might not otherwise be discussed side by side.

However, the book's ambition to serve both research and practice has disadvantages as well as advantages. For example, readers who are unfamiliar with some of the literature may find some chapters difficult, whereas those who are familiar with the literature may find that the descriptions of measures merely whet the appetite, leaving it up to the reader to do the considerable additional work required to review the measures firsthand. For practitioners, again, the descriptions of the social support interventions may be sufficient to arouse curiosity, but they would need to be fleshed out considerably to provide practical guidance.

Overall, Social Support Measurement and Intervention has much to offer both researchers and practitioners who wish to explore the relationship between social supports and health and mental health outcomes. For the field as a whole, the volume may serve the additional purpose of making it clear that a more satisfying integrative theory is needed that can better encompass the range of efforts that are under way across several disciplines.

Dr. Johnsen is associate professor of psychiatry at the Center for Mental Health Services Research of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.




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