The Effectiveness of a Self-help Group


  • Prejudices
  • Cultural differences
  • Lack of support
  • Distrust
  • Poor communication
  • Surroundings


  • Clearly defined goals (know what is expected).
  • A clearly established structure or, if not, an accepted process.
  • Well defined steps: schedules, breaks, feed-back period, etc.
  • A constant up-dating of information (goals and other pertinent information).
  • A well established delegation of tasks to be accomplished (clear and simple directives).
  • Understanding of the role of the facilitator and co-facilitator and the self-help process.
  • Open communication between the members of the group, including the facilitator.
  • Resolution of interpersonal problems as soon as they arise.
  • Recognition of the contribution of each individual.
  • Access to assistance, when needed (group members know when and where to go get it).
  • Acceptance of interpersonal differences.


Here are the benchmarks by which to evaluate the effectiveness of a self-help group.

1. Objectives

Set a main objective and specific objectives.

The main objective is as follows:

  • To bring together people who share a common experience to develop self-help and to promote their betterment through the verbalization of their experience, their pain and their agony.

The specific objectives are as follows:

  • Encourage the sharing of experiences between people with a common reality.
  • Promote self-help at all levels and truly nurture the feeling of helping while being helped.
  • Enable different people to meet thereby fostering the potential of new friendships.
  • Enable members to develop a more positive view of their problems.

2. The Task

  • Clarification of objective(s)
  • Delegation of responsibility
  • Simple and clear directives
  • Continuous up-dating of information with regard to the goals, directives, responsibilities, etc.
  • Conflict resolution about the goals, tasks, etc.
  • Identification of assistance available

3. Interpersonal relationships

  • Active listening
  • Interpersonal conflict resolution
  • Open communications between the members and the facilitator
  • Acceptance of individual differences
  • Recognition of the contribution of others
  • Treating each other as equals

4. The process

  • Understanding the facilitator’s role
  • Identifying expectations with regard to process
  • Identifying the timetable, breaks, feed-back times, etc

5. Other

  • The animation team alternates
  • Each member is relatively stable and able to handle himself


The performance of the group depends to a large extent on the effectiveness of the members’ participation. Although participation is, for the most part, based on the motivation of the members, there are certain conditions that enhance the quality of the participation. These conditions concern the group members.

Personal view of participation

The perception members have of their own participation and of the general participation often depends on their experience and directly influences the quality of their interventions. It is therefore important that each person see their contribution and that of others as a source of enrichment for the group. A positive perception of one’s own participation and that of the others members constitutes one of the fundamentals of effective participation.

Understanding the goals

An understanding of the goals of the group and the reason for its existence, elicit contributions based on the needs of the group. Participation cannot be other than effective when the members are fully aware that their contributions must be oriented towards the advancement of the group.

The desire for adhesion

Effective participation cannot rest solely on an understanding of the goals of the group. The desire to adhere voluntarily to the pursuit of a common objective complements this initial condition. The desire and interest to collaborate in the pursuit of the goals also constitutes a minimal condition for effective participation.

Presence and commitment

Despite its obviousness, it bears mentioning that the physical and psychological presence of the members represents a condition important to effective participation. Not only is presence necessary, it must be accompanied by commitment which manifests itself through the cooperation, availability and discipline of its members.


A reasonable degree of self-confidence promotes better participation on the part of the members of a group. Insecurity and lack of self-confidence are inhibitors that result in passiveness. Inversely, when members are free of these inhibitors, their participation is more effective.

Personal Skills

All members possess skills that can in one way or another promote group progress. These skills are derived, to a large extent, from their knowledge, their experience, their sense of responsibility or their sense of initiative. The deliberate application of these skills, in relation to the needs of the group, in part determines the effectiveness of the participation of the members.

Interpersonal skills

The facility that the members have to connect with one another, their level of socialization, their flexibility and the respect they show others are important interpersonal skills to guarantee effective participation. These skills reveal an openness towards the other members, a prerequisite for effective participation.

Preparation for the meeting

Serious individual preparation prior to a meeting of the group also represents a condition for effective participation.


Factors preventing members from participating in the group can be numerous and varied. These are grouped under four headings to help us identify those that pertain to us personally.

Factors related to the members of the group

  • Fear of being judged and evaluated by another member.
  • Fear of not knowing how to clearly express oneself and of not being understood.
  • The feeling of being rejected by the others.
  • Worry, lack of assurance, timidity.

Factors related to the way the facilitator carries out his or her functions

  • Fear of being judges and evaluated by the facilitator.
  • Facilitator does not see that I want to speak.
  • The facilitator always acknowledges the same people: he has favorites.
  • The facilitator lets members butting and this makes me react internally.
  • He imposes his point of view and I don’t like that.
  • He takes too much space and that blocks me.
  • He cuts off people who don’t think like he does.

Reasons related to technical aspects

  • There is no procedure, we don’t know when to intervene.
  • The room size doesn’t create ambiance.
  • The members cannot see one another because of the table arrangements.
  • The group is too large.
  • The objective is not clearly perceived.


Self-help groups enable people who share similar experiences to meet. These people can share their difficulties and together, try to find pertinent solutions by which to improve their situation. In this context, the responsibilities of the participant will be as follows:

  • in concert with the others, define the different rules governing the confidentiality required by the group and ensure that they are respected;
  • respect the discussion topes chosen by the majority of the members of the group;
  • respect the leadership that the facilitator must exert (and the co-facilitator, as the case may be) within the group;
  • get involved personally to develop a feeling of belonging within the group and thus benefit from all the support that the self-help group has to offer;
  • be certain to avoid situations that might potentially cause conflict with the other participants by not personalizing the comments.


  • to be informed and consulted from the outset on the content, goals, functioning and rules of the self-help group;
  • to have the opportunity to express an array of thoughts, even the most negative, so as to share them with the group;
  • to have the opportunity to carry out to a variety of responsibilities and tasks;
  • to not express oneself at all.


A person qualified to be a member of a self-help group is someone who:

  • shares a common experience wit the members of the group;
  • has the desire to share his emotions and his experiences with others;
  • is able to offer support to the members of the group and to purpose solutions or, at least, positive elements with regard to problems raised;
  • is convinced of the value of the group initiative;
  • is able to deal with a variety of interpersonal ideas to give others a chance to talk about their experience;
  • is able to truly listen and understand others;
  • is able to motivate the members of the group to move forward.

CAP Santé Outaouais autorise the reproduction of this texte. We only want you to indicate the source : How-to manual for self-help groups, CAP Santé Outaouais, Internet edition,