Anna Franca Plastina University of Calabria “The discourse of comforting: The case of online health support groups.”


Individuals sharing similar illness experiences nowadays have the opportunity of joining online health support groups to receive comfort from fellow sufferers. This situated practice represents an alternative to the pending issue of integrating patient narratives in a therapeutic approach to illness. The aim of this research is to investigate how discourse is mediated to comfort peers in an online condition‑specific support group managed by laypeople. Corpus‑based discourse analysis was conducted using a mixed‑method design to disclose discourse functions and lexicogrammatical features which construe meanings of comforting in a corpus of online text‑based messages. Results highlight how comforters organise their ‘talking cures’ through different epistemic and affective stance processes enhancing peer self‑management, and how their sociocultural constructs serve multiple communicative functions. Results further shed light on how these ‘talking cures’ can benefit remote peers emotionally, inform the biomedical doctor‑dominant relationship, besides challenging physicians as gatekeepers of medical knowledge to become ‘physician‑healers’.

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