What is Self-Help and How Does it Work?

Self-help is a way to deal with problems that everyone faces from time to time in their lives–illness, divorce, the death of a loved one, emotional upsets or strains. Talking over these problems with other people who have lived through them can help us cope with today’s difficulties and help us learn how to deal with tomorrow.

In the past two decades, the self-help movement has mushroomed. AA, the largest self-help group, reports over one million members in the US. One estimate places the total number of people in self-help support groups at 20 million. There are groups for addictions–Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous; for families–Families of the Mentally Ill, Mothers of Twins Clubs, Tough Love; for illness/disability–National Association of People with AIDS, Us Too (prostate), Tourette Syndrome Association; for mental illness–Emotions Anonymous, Recovery, Inc., GROW; for bereavement–The Compassionate Friends, Survivors of Suicide, Widow to Widow; and for lifestyles–Single Mothers by Choice and Society for the Second Self (crossdressers).

Helping is at the center of all this activity: knowing how to receive help, give help and help yourself. Underlying self-help is the basic theme: “You are not alone.” Self-help group members:

  • feel less isolated knowing others share similar problems;
  • exchange ideas and effective ways to cope with problems;
  • actively work on their attitudes and behavior to make positive changes in their lives;
  • gain a new sense of control over their lives.

The knowledge base of self-help mutual support groups is experiential, indigenous, and rooted in the wisdom that comes from struggling with problems in concrete, shared ways. Self-help groups build on the strengths of their members.