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Self-help groups

What they are and how they can help you
There are many types of self-help the pioneers who traveled west or the of group exercises designed to
groups. People give these groups families who farmed during the Great increase-self-awareness and
different names, such as support groups Depression. Times were tough for these promote desired growth and
or discussion groups. They also have individuals and families, but they made change in individuals.
different ideas about what these groups the best of their situations by offering • Social/recreational group—
do. This publication describes a self- mutual support. primary function is to meet people
help group that is led primarily by its and have fun; the members also
Today, self-help groups continue to be
members and compares this type of often participate in an organized
important. An estimated half million
group with other groups. It also offers activity, such as volleyball,
groups have formed and are organized
suggestions for forming your own self- quilting, or cards.
around almost every conceivable
help group.
human condition—illness, disabilities, • Educational group—meets
What is a self-help group? emotional problems, or addictions. primarily to fulfill the members’
An example needs for information. It often
If you think about it, you probably have
Simply put, a self-help group is any makes use of discussion activities
been a member of a number of informal
group that offers emotional support and and guest speakers.
self-help groups, although you didn’t
practical help with a problem that is • Social action group—energies are
realize it at the time. The first group
common to all members. focused on making changes in the
you received from, and later gave to,
However, the type of group proposed in was your family. As you entered external environment. Members
this publication also operates with the school, you became a part of other often try to inform the public about
following assumptions: groups in which you worked and shared political issues and influence
fun—sports teams, 4-H clubs, or public policy.
• People can give and receive more
in a group setting than they can by church organizations. • Therapy group—is led by a trained
themselves. professional and focuses on the
As an adult, you have joined other
emotional issues of members.
• People going through difficult informal and helpful groups. You
times feel better when they can probably enjoy spending time at your Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish
share their feelings and friends’ homes visiting about everyday between the type of self-help group
experiences with others who are life and problems. As you can see, it’s proposed in this publication and the
“in the same boat.” natural to gather together for support groups listed above. That’s because
• The self-help group is member-led. and fellowship. groups often are mixtures of several
Group members take turns being functions. In fact, the model of the self-
What distinguishes self-help
leaders for group sessions. help group proposed in this publication
groups from other groups?
borrows many concepts from the
• What is shared within the group is Some groups, however, are formed
groups listed above.
kept confidential. more intentionally to help their
members solve problems. A list of these For instance, a self-help group may
Self-help groups are not new. People
groups might include the following: engage in activities that cause its
have helped each other and worked
• Growth/improvement group— members to change and grow. Often the
together since the beginning of time.
focuses on individual rather than members set aside time to socialize,
You probably have read stories about
social change. It often uses a series perhaps visiting over dessert and

SP 150 July 2001

the therapist is able to offer his or the road. File: Family life 3 If you answer “no” to either of these This ISU Extension publication was formerly published as questions. You group’s goals at the first meeting. age. members of the group and offer Department of Agriculture. Self-help groups are not for everyone. you also may Then ask yourself two questions: programs. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all During difficult times. color. Office of Civil Rights. To file a complaint of feel uncomfortable about getting 1. The self-help group? feelings and get group support. you get so busy with members’ needs. You can Some people cannot benefit from the already exist. religion. you will find group or the group’s initiators should may become involved in some type of others share your difficulties and care have names of helpful counselors in social action. why bother creating or learn how others have dealt with their give and take of a self-help group joining a self-help group? problems. and you may find you’re because they may not be ready to share able to help others who are One answer is that membership in a their feelings and experiences. your area. self-help group reminds you that you may monopolize group discussions. through. Iowa State University of them support? Science and Technology. primary purpose. Washington. members of a self-help group know Self-help groups can be started by But a distinction should be made here what you’re experiencing because professionals. all group Sometimes being with people who personnel. because they don’t care about group Also available on the World Wide Web: http://www.iastate. such as mental health between a self-help group and a therapy they’ve been there themselves. but this is not their what happens to you. As you discuss your group.) Many materials can be made available in alternative formats for ADA clients. if you’re interested in becoming a Thus. The group probably will function more help from the others. Or you can start a group members are “in the same boat. perhaps a self-help group PM 1221b. ground rules and feels comfortable with with personal or emotional problems. workers.” know from experience how you feel You may feel alone. And a self-help group A self-help group can offer you support Who can start a often helps members cope with their you may not find in other groups. not are surrounded by others who care. direction. disability.extension. In a self-help group. the format can prevent problems down Also. everyone is talking about your Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work. family life personal and family activities. . You feel as though better than before I came? SW. Do I leave the meeting feeling discrimination. you will learn a family counselor or join a therapy generally the learning is more informal you’re not alone. political beliefs. Everyone gives help to and receives makes all the difference. Whitten Building. the valuable give-and- her clients different help than any self- take that occurs in such a setting is If you have concerns about your future. Acts 2. Iowa. Johnson. national origin. Stanley R. you still can benefit from better if the members think about the offers group members guidance. but because they need Reviewed by Colleen Jolly. is for you is to attend a few meetings. Ames. 14th and Independence Avenue. but together with others. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits One way to find out if a self-help group discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis hard times hit. first step in preparing you to help there are no easy answers to financial Why bother with a others help themselves. He or she does can learn from others and they can gain Making sure everyone understands the not come to the group looking for help from your support.S.S. DC 20250-9410 or call 202-720-5964. You may need to talk with speak during one meeting. it’s easy the help of a counselor or therapy specialist. They may ask a guest lecturer to By intentionally taking the time to get isn’t for you. ministers. Although function for those who need them. Members of your self-help and group-generated. in cooperation with the U. of race. not to make time for friends and group. help group member can probably give. . a trained leader well. excellent experience. being able to self-help group? share your concerns with others in the Is a self-help group for you? If self-help groups are a natural part of same situation may lighten your load. our lives and many helpful groups You will find you’re not alone. together with others. Or they experiencing tough times. and family problems. understands quite what you’re going Cooperative Extension Service. . and marital or family Sometimes. sexual orientation. write USDA. and justice for all neighbors. In others words. Occasionally they problems with others. Am I able to listen to other problems … but that no one of May 8 and June 30. peer counselor. or extension group. and support. . gender. director. 1914. membership in a self-help group. Room 326-W. you may find it helpful to share your Therapy groups serve an important participation in a self-help group is the feelings with other people. Even if you’re handling your situation smoothly and meet its members’ needs In a therapy group. This is especially true when The U. Iowa State University Extension.