When tragedy, crisis, or just everyday life cause problems to arise, people tend to lean on family and friends for support. However, sometimes it can be helpful to be with others who are dealing with the same issue, life situation, disease, or addiction. When a group of individuals who share a common problem get together to help each other heal, they form what is called a self-help, or support, group. The term “self-help” implies that the group members provide support to strengthen the individual to cope and problem-solve.
Purpose of Self-Help Groups
Self-help groups rely on self-disclosure. As long as the participants feel comfortable, they will share details and information regarding their situation. In addition, their feelings, worries, and attempts at healing or recovery are expressed. When individuals hear another person’s story, concerns, or successes and failures, they begin to feel accepted and less alone in their own life and situation. This is especially helpful, as many life circumstances, like a disability or illness, can feel isolating.
Types of Self-Help Groups
There is a vast variety of self-help groups available today. These can range from independent gatherings to programs that partner with a larger organization. Locations can also vary, including individual homes, hospitals, places of worship, schools and other non-profits or centers. Some self-help groups have a professional present to offer guidance and knowledge. Others follow a peer-led style. This type of support group is comprised of people who share the same problem or situation. Many people enjoy this style because “veterans” can help those newer to the group share their experiences and what’s working for them. In this approach, both the “veteran” and the newcomer benefit.
Self-Help Group Models
Alcoholics Anonymous is perhaps the most well known self-help model. Its 12-step program was later adopted and refashioned for other groups, such as: Narcotics Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous. Respecting confidentiality outside of meetings is a central tenet of this program. Groups are self-supporting and not reliant on outside means.
Other groups, specifically those addressing medical needs, provide information related to living with the disease or illness. You might also learn about who to contact or where to go for assistance and advocacy. Simply networking with other individuals or families who share the medical situation can be a life-giving source of encouragement.
People with less common life situations or diseases can find help through online support groups. Also, if one desires complete anonymity, seeking cyber-support can be a good option. Websites, chat rooms, and discussion boards offer 24-hour accessibility. These allow people to support one another in their unique circumstances at any time of day or night.
Joining a Self-Help Group
While a support group can be a wonderfully beneficial experience, finding the right one for you is key. The following five strategies will help you connect with a group to meet your individual needs:
Walking through life’s trials and struggles is difficult. Sharing the journey with another makes it a little easier to handle. The right self-help group can play a fundamental role in your healing and provide strength along the way.