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Self-Help Group Therapy

What is Self-Help Group Therapy?

Self-help group therapy is made up of individuals who share a similar concern or issue. They are typically self-managed and organized, and membership is usually free with the option to donate to the program in whatever dollar amount you feel comfortable with. The shared experiences of participating within a group is believed to be highly valuable in taking steps toward healing.

Self-help group therapy may also be referred to as mutual-help groups, mutual aid or support groups. Usually the different group options include people that share a similar condition or situation, making them better able to provide help, experience and support to one another. There are support groups for all types of conditions and afflictions whether physical or emotional.

One of the most well-known self-help groups, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), was the first known group therapy option and was developed in 1935. After a few decades, the idea of self-help group therapy took off in the sixties and groups became available for every major medical disease and many mental health issues. The 1990s saw the development of online self-help groups, and in today’s age there are hundreds of options for both online and in-person group therapies.

Types of Self-Help Groups

Due to the overwhelming number of struggles faced by individuals every day, the different types of therapy can be broken down into different groups.

Recovery self-help groups. This group would contain programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. The purpose of these types of groups is to help members eliminate or manage a behavior that is causing them concern or is effecting their ability to function normally in society.

Stress-related self-help groups. This grouping would be made up of people struggling with a similar stressful situation, such as Parents without Partners. The idea behind these groups is to reduce stress by getting people together who are all going through these experiences and allowing them to share coping strategies and advice with each other.

Survival-oriented groups. This group would likely be made up by people who had suffered from some form of discrimination.

Personal growth groups. This type of group would be for those who haven’t necessarily experienced a “problem”, but are looking to create an environment of support and encouragement for the other group members. The goal would be to help one another live happier and healthier lives.

Groups for family members. There are also group therapies for those who are family members to someone who is suffering from some form of affliction or illness. It can be very difficult to watch your loved one struggle or deteriorate, and these groups are designed to offer a space where they can share their struggles and gain advice and encouragement from others who have gone through similar experiences.

One of the things that make individuals feel the most comfortable with sharing their experiences is that most of the self-help group community considers anonymity to be a top priority. This encourages members to share their experiences without embarrassment or concern for repercussion in their daily life. Self-help groups are also self-led, unlike support groups that would be led by a professional who is there to steer the discussion in a certain conversation. With self-help group therapy, the group can decide during the meeting what the best way to proceed would be, and how they want to process information that is being shared.

Benefits of Self-Help Group Therapy

While it may seem intimidating to discuss some of your hardest struggles and biggest fears with a group of strangers, a group therapy setting can encourage some immensely healing results. A group therapy program can be very rewarding in the sense that the whole group acts as a support network for the person who is sharing, and offers to be a sounding board for their troubles. Your group will likely help you brainstorm solutions to your problem, or hold you accountable for any actions that enable you to continue engaging in behavior that is harmful to you.

Listening to others share their experiences can help members put their problems into perspective, or view them from a different point of view. This, in turn, can help them develop new ways of problem solving. As the old saying goes, “misery loves company.” While that may seem like a negative outlook on a difficult situation, when you feel like you are the only one struggling or in a bad situation, it can be extremely uplifting to hear other people’s stories and know that you are not alone.

Due to the large number and variety of people who attend group therapies, diversity plays a huge part in what makes self-help groups successful. Having people from all walks of life bringing their different backgrounds and personalities means that there is also a variety of perspectives available to the group. When it comes to creating a strategy for handling your own situation, you are bound to get a lot of helpful and insightful feedback from attending a group meeting.

Why Self-Help Group Therapy?

Accessibility. Self-help groups are free and extremely cost-effective. Meetings are often posted throughout a variety of common areas, such as hospitals, newspapers, churches, schools and community areas. In high population cities, there can be hundreds of meetings a week available for attendance no matter your schedule, and online meetings make them accessible for those who live outside high population areas.

Social Support. The sense of community, belonging and understanding supplied by self-help groups can be a critical part of rehabilitation for certain individuals. This is especially true for those who come from dysfunctional families or have very little emotional support. Group members are able to objective while still offering unconditional support and relevant insight.

Self-Esteem. Self-help groups promote healthy self-esteem by promoting the concept that, as individuals, we are capable. This is supported by reinforcing behaviors that are healthy and appropriate, and may even include having a seasoned member of the group acting as a sponsor to be a sounding board for new members. This internal support system also promotes a rotating self-leadership model and encourages others to become mentors or sponsors in turn.

Anonymity. Most groups work on a first name only basis to protect the privacy of its members. There are strict confidentiality policies regarding any stories shared during meetings. Online programs offer even more privacy and anonymity, because they don’t meet face to face for meetings. Online meetings can also help to reduce discomfort, discrimination and stereotyping members based on things like race, gender, culture, age or disabilities.

Insight. Particularly successful with 12-step programs such as AA, the idea of allowing time for introspection is often used to help members come to realizations as it pertains to their behavior and how it affects them and those around them. Introspection enables them to become aware of the repercussions of their actions, as well as pinpoint motivations behind the behavior.

Advocacy. In addition to being able to meet and discuss issues or struggles, many self-help groups meet to advocate for certain legislative issues. No matter what the issue at hand is, these meetings are usually focused around generating equitable policies for people who are in difficult circumstances. They may help to raise awareness on topics from physical illness to raising awareness and pushing for improvement of research of major mental health illnesses.

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