Counteracting the Deviance of Depression: Peer Support Groups for Victims


Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706.


Early laboratory research has shown that when people are faced with a stressfull situation they prefer the company of those facing the same unpleasant event. In this paper we extend this work by examining the impact that peer support group membership has on the mental health of participants, individuals who have sought the help of similarly afflicted others. We present a theoretical argument which proposes that needs for evaluating the appropriateness of one's emotional reactions to victimization are not likely to be met through normal social interactions, leading to feelings of perceived self deviance which could contribute to depression. We suggest that needs for validation, however, could be fulfilled when a victim is able to share emotional reactions with those having similar experiences in peer support groups. Indirect evidence from other research and relevant data from our pilot study on peer support for rape victims indicates that feelings of deviance do tend to decline after group participation. The findings on the reduction of negative affect of group members are rather limited, but positive outcomes generally have been obtained in groups facilitated by professionals. We conclude by suggesting some of the functions that peer support groups may serve for participants in the hopes of increasing their general effectiveness as vehicles for depression reduction.