What is Self-Help?
A self-help group is a voluntary gathering of people who share a common problem, condition or history. By coming together, members share support and ideas on how to cope and live more productive and fulfilling lives. Groups are usually free of charge, on-going, and open to new members.
Self-help or mutual assistance groups are playing an increasingly important role in the health care system. They complement traditional services by effectively helping people deal with problems, stress, hardship, pain, and personal development. In self-help groups, people take responsibility for each other and themselves. They find that participating with others dealing with similar issues is non-stigmatizing and effective.
What Makes A Good Group?
Today, millions of Americans are turning to support groups to help them cope with some of life’s most difficult problems. Ranging from tiny gatherings to national networks, often operating on shoestring budgets, meeting in rooms donated by churches or community centers, support groups have managed to survive and flourish. They are proving to be extremely effective in helping people cope with their problems.
Proving themselves to be “an idea whose time has come,” support groups are now burgeoning around the country at a fast-increasing rate. People seeking the help they offer want answers to some important questions:
How can a group help me?
First, it helps to be with people who share a common concern and to gather information. Participants share experiences with others who not only have been through the same suffering, but also are finding ways to cope with and even master it. If you have been nearly incapacitated by “the problem,” you initiate a positive action and gain a feeling of restored control by simply attending a meeting. Then, once there, you find the comfort of fellowship with other similar sufferers, and by hearing others’ experiences, even come to learn that you may be better off than you realized. Also, through the caring and sharing exchange, you can gain insight on your problem and learn helpful coping strategies while you become part of a network that receives up-to-date information. Finally, and perhaps the most therapeutic of all, a support group can help you regain self-esteem as you become involved with and are helpful to others in the group.
How Do I Find the Right Group?
There are certain elements that seem to produce an effective support group environment: Do approach your first meeting with an open mind and try to find out all you can. You may need to attend several meetings before you feel things are “clicking” — friendly atmosphere, a give-and-take discussion, and perhaps an informative lecture. If you don’t feel you have found “your” group, and you are still interested in finding the right one, keep trying. Even within the same organization, chapters can be very different and membership is usually quite fluid. As you size up the right support group for you, here are some good things to look for:
1. Warmth and friendliness between members and a welcoming attitude toward newcomers.
2. Some focus and structure to meetings, while allowing time for members to mingle informally.
3. Regularly scheduled meetings with an ongoing agenda to reassure members that the group will be there for them in the future with support and information.
4. General participation and shared decision-making by members.
Although most groups need people to take certain responsibilities, no one person should be allowed to dominate a meeting with their problems. Ideally, meetings should offer a non-judgmental atmosphere where each person who chooses has a chance to speak out. In addition to periodic lectures by professionals in your special area of concern, up-to-date resource material should be available to all members.
It is important to realize that support groups are not a substitute for group therapy or individual counseling. Therapy may be a valuable component of recovery. The benefit of a support group arises from the sharing of life experiences, the altruism, and a sense of community within the group.
How do I locate a group for my particular condition?
If you are unable to locate a particular group in this directory, call the Self-Help Center at 352-0099. We may be able to locate a state or national support group or class on the subject. The Self-help Center can also help you form a group or link you with people interested in the topic.
Abstract of information with permission of the Rainy Day People Clearinghouse from an article in Back to Health by Jinx Smith in June, 1989, and a newsletter of the Rainy Day People Clearinghouse, Scottsdale, AZ, Spring 1996.