Consumer Self-Help

Self-help groups are geared for mutual support, information, and growth. Self-help is based on the premise that people with a shared condition who come together can help themselves and each other to cope, with the two-way interaction of giving and receiving help considered advantageous. Self-help groups are peer led rather than professionally led.

Organized self-help has a long history, with an estimated 2 to 3 percent of the general population involved in some self-help group at any one time (Borkman, 1991, 1997). Over the past several decades, people with serious mental illnesses have formed mutual assistance organizations to aid each other and to combat stigma. These range from small groups held in a member’s home to freestanding nonprofit organizations with paid staff and a range of programs. In general, however, the self-help empowerment trend does not appear to have reached the African-American, Native American, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian-American populations.

As the number and variety of self-help groups has grown, so too has social science research on their benefits (Borkman, 1991). In general, participation in self-help groups has been found to lessen feelings of isolation, increase practical knowledge, and sustain coping efforts (Powell, 1994; Kurtz, 1997). Similarly, for people with schizophrenia or other mental illnesses, participation in self-help groups increases knowledge and enhances coping (Borkman, 1997; Trainor et al., 1997). Various orientations include replacing self-defeating thoughts and actions with wellness-promoting activities (Murray, 1996), improved vocational involvement (Kaufmann, 1995), social support and shared problem solving (Mowbray & Tan, 1993), and crisis respite (Mead, 1997). Such orientations are thought to contribute greatly to increased coping, empowerment, and realistic hope for the future. Additionally, some groups are tailored to meet the needs of consumers who are members of sexual minority groups, men, or those who also have substance disorders (Noordsy et al., 1996; Vogel et al., 1998).

A number of controlled studies have demonstrated benefits for consumers participating in self-help. One study of the self-help group Recovery, Inc., found that leaders and members who were surveyed retrospectively reported fewer symptoms and fewer hospitalizations after joining the group than before. It also found the leaders’ reports of their psychological well-being to have been comparable to community controls (Galanter, 1988). In another study of 115 former mental patients, Luke (1989) found that those who continued to attend self-help meetings at least once per month over a period of 10 months were more likely to show improvement on psychological, interpersonal, or community adjustment measures than those who attended less frequently. Through a case study, which included focus groups and interviews, Lieberman and colleagues (1991) found a consumer-run support group to improve members’ self-confidence and self-esteem and to lead to fewer hospitalizations.

In a survey of mental health self-help group leaders in New York State, respondents identified three positive outcomes that were directly related to their self-help group membership: greater self-esteem, more hopefulness about the future, and a greater sense of well-being. According to survey respondents, all of these positive changes led to fewer hospitalizations (Carpinello & Knight, 1993). A study of six self-help programs in several parts of the United States also reported on consumers’ perceptions of self-help programs (Chamberlin & Rogers, 1990). Although not nationally representative, consumers in this study expressed satisfaction with their self-help program, at which they spent an average of 15 hours per week. They reported that their participation helped them to solve problems and feel more in control of their lives.


New zealand service user workforce.pdf
The Surgeon General consumer influence.doc