Does mentoring improve the health of people in the community? A realist evaluation

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Summary: Mentoring is an intervention aimed at strengthening social networks of individuals by providing one-to-one support to develop a social network. While there is a lack of insight into how the social network intervention “mentoring” affects health outcomes, we used a realist evaluation approach to find out for whom and under what circumstances mentoring affects health. The study was conducted in the Netherlands. In phase 1, an initial program theory of mentoring was developed based on a group interview with participants and professionals engaged in mentoring, complemented by documents (previous studies, descriptions of interventions). In phase 2, the program theory was tested using interviews with 23 participants before and 16 after mentoring. Findings: Mentoring strengthened the social network when two conditions were met. Firstly, mentoring coaches needed to be trained. Secondly, participants needed to have a pre-existing—albeit small—network and need to have some social skills. If the social network was strengthened, mentoring increased self-esteem and self-confidence and decreased experiences of depression and loneliness of participants through three mechanisms: (1) participants were acknowledged and their individual needs were accepted; (2) individual coping resources were improved; (3) capabilities to initiate the search for a social network and to be involved in a social network were realized. Applications: Mentoring is a useful intervention to increase self-esteem and self-confidence and decrease experiences of depression and loneliness of participants if the two conditions are met. Therefore, mentors should be carefully trained to acknowledge and respond to participants’ individual needs for social bonds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)463-484
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of social work
Issue number3
Early online date2023
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


  • Social work
  • community work
  • evaluation
  • health and social care
  • qualitative research
  • social capital

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