What are Self-Help Groups?

Dorothy Distefano

Self-help groups are comprised of people with a common goal, usually involving the treatment of a mental health, emotional, physical, or behavioral issue. These groups work on the principle of mutual support. Members share a disability or problem, and meetings revolve around discussion and shared problem solving.

Self-help groups provide mutual support for others experiencing problems in life.
Self-help groups provide mutual support for others experiencing problems in life.

There are self-help groups of countless types. Groups exist for alcohol addiction, cancer, and schizophrenia, among many others. Some groups are for those who share a common interest, such as new parents. There are also groups for families of people afflicted with an illness or disability.

Online self-help support groups are easy to access and offer 24-hour availability.
Online self-help support groups are easy to access and offer 24-hour availability.

These groups may be led by peers or by a professional. Attendance is voluntary in most cases. Meetings are scheduled by participants and there are usually no formal dues, although there may be some fees associated with snacks or rooms for holding the meetings.

Self-help groups might help people to focus on areas that need improvement.
Self-help groups might help people to focus on areas that need improvement.

Some groups allow members to remain anonymous, using only first names. In online communities, members choose user names to preserve privacy. This anonymity allows people to feel more comfortable when sharing personal experiences, while still sharing common situations and feelings.

Self-help groups can serve as motivation to take on healthier habits.
Self-help groups can serve as motivation to take on healthier habits.

Self-help groups can be effective in a number of ways. Members often benefit from the support and advice of their peers. Another advantage can be improved self-esteem related to being able to help others. A common feeling of belonging and the ability to talk with others who can understand and relate to similar feelings can also be a valuable benefit of group meetings.

Self help groups can assist people deal with body image issues.
Self help groups can assist people deal with body image issues.

Most groups will have a leader, either the person who started the group, someone chosen by the group, or a professional. The leader will organize the meeting schedule and facilitate discussions. A leader must be able to ensure that the group stays on track and that no one member monopolizes the dialogue. Leaders may choose to find speakers or materials related to the group’s purpose. Some groups choose co-leaders to handle the responsibilities.

Self-help groups can help people dealing with clutter and hoarding tendencies.
Self-help groups can help people dealing with clutter and hoarding tendencies.

A relatively new innovation in self-help groups is the online group. The Internet is full of web-based groups that utilize forums, chat rooms, and emails. Online groups have the added benefit of worldwide access and 24 hour accessibility. Also available on the Internet are resources for finding both physical and online groups and guides for starting a group.

Self-help groups might focus on recovery from abuse.
Self-help groups might focus on recovery from abuse.

Studies have shown that peer-led self-help groups can be as effective as professionally led groups. For example, two studies of professional versus self-help weight loss groups showed that both groups lost equal amounts of weight and retained the losses over the course of the next year. In other studies, researchers found that people with serious mental illnesses benefited significantly from group meetings. In general, individuals who belonged to these types of support groups expressed positive feelings about the group and felt that it was beneficial to them.

Self-help groups can often be a source of emotional support.
Self-help groups can often be a source of emotional support.
Self-help groups can help people deal with anger issues.
Self-help groups can help people deal with anger issues.
A self-help group may benefit individuals who experience chronic stress and anxiety.
A self-help group may benefit individuals who experience chronic stress and anxiety.
Self-help groups can assist people who are dealing with childhood abuse.
Self-help groups can assist people who are dealing with childhood abuse.

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