Who can be a member of a self-help group?

I can join a self-help group if I myself have a specific problem or disease or if I am going through a difficult time.

A person can also join a self-help group if he or she is affected by the illness or behavior of a family member or someone else to them.


A reciprocal relationship

The reciprocity of self-help signifies that a member of a self-help group gives at the same time as he or she receives.

When a person expresses his or her thoughts, emotions, feelings they demonstrate the trust that they have in the person who is receiving this information.

When a person puts his trust in another person, he enables that person to receive something, to be enriched, since we all have the need to learn, to love and to be loved.

The fact of being accepted and understood is invaluable, as each person needs to be recognized and loved. It can also be valorizing.

When a person listens to someone else, they are not just listening. Indeed, the listener can express his own feelings and thoughts and this will have an effect on the person who is sharing. In this way, we can say that the person who is listening is also in a receiving mode.

The two men go to a nearby snack-bar. There, Pierre tells Jacques about the trouble he is having staying away from alcohol and about his problems at the office. Pierre feels relieved and a little more confident when he leaves Jacques that night.

Jacques, for his part, is pleased Pierre has placed his trust in him. He is happy that he means something to Pierre, he feels valued. Returning home several hours later, Jacques tells his wife: “My chat with Pierre tonight made me feel so good that I have the impression that it is he who helped me and not the other way around.”

A relationship of equals

In self-help, we have equals sharing with equals, in complete honesty. No one has to influence the other at all costs nor exert authority of play a role. There is, however, a natural and legitimate influence that does exist between the people involved in self-help.

A positive and profound relationship

In the self-help relationship, people talk about issues that they take very much to heart. Although we sometimes have the need to get things off our chest, we don’t leave it at that. The self-help relationship enables people to join forces to help members come to understand their feelings and thereby to find ways to treating this feeling in a constructive manner.


Sharing common experience

In a self-help group, we find people who have the same disease or who are going through a similar difficult situation. This is what we call a “common experience”.

The self-help group enables members to open up to each other, to share their situation.

The self-help group provides answers to certain questions, such as:

  • What to do in such a difficult situation?
  • Who to talks to about this problem or this feeling?
  • Where to find someone who has had a similar experience and who has successfully overcome it?

Am I the only one asking these questions? Is it normal to be thinking or feeling his way?

Members neither judge nor comment on what is said by the people in the group. Each person talks about his or her own feelings, experience, ideas and each speaks in the first person. What’s more, what happens within the group is strictly confidential.

Shared emotions

Self-help derives its strength, not only from common experience, but also from the fact that the members of the group share similar emotions regarding this common experience. In other words, the experience of one “speaks” to other members of the group who identify with it.

Because of this, the members of the self-help group are able to understand each other. This is why the person who shares their emotions, just like those who listen, feels less alone, less isolated. They feel accepted and understood. After, they say: “At last”.

A feeling of equality

In a self-help group, everyone is on an equal footing. This means that the members of the group accept each other and understand each other as equals, that no one is in a position of authority in relation to others and that no one can make decisions for the group.

The group belongs to its members and there is only one power; the power that each person exerts over his or her own participation in the group discussions.

Mutual respect

In a self-help group, the members consider themselves to be of equal ability. They are not professionals and no one tries to prove to the others that he is right, that they should do as he has done.

Rather, because everyone is equal in the group, the members tend to put aside their differences. What counts is the help that can be given. Inevitably, this is not always easy, “because we are all human, we have our strengths and weaknesses”.

Thus, self-help enables us to be open to others and to feel respected. Each individual knows that he or she is unique, with the right to be different while being alike in certain respects.

Making friendships

In a self-help group, friendships develop between members. Generally speaking, the relationships between the members are positive and enriching. Some people choose to meet not only in the groups but outside the regular meetings. Some groups also decide to organize social evenings from time to time.

Autonomy of action

The members of a self-help group not only talk about their difficulties, but also of ways to improve their quality of life. The support they lend each other helps them to overcome difficult personal situations or to make decisions. The support they give each other helps them to develop a better understanding of their feelings and to find a constructive way of dealing with these feelings.

Flexibility in self-help

The members of a self-help group help each other according to individual needs.

Even though there are fixed meeting times, the help members give each other outside of the group can be available at any time. This can be valuable, especially in times of crisis.

Action that is free

Being part of a self-help group is a decision that is freely taken. No one is obliged to be part of a self-help group, to go to every meeting or to give the help that someone is asking of them.

Self-help is volunteer help. No one receives money or compensation for the service rendered. This would be completely contrary to the notion of self-help. The member who assists another knows that he will be helped in turn, whether by that person or by another member of the group.

Self-help is about being autonomous and responsible: it is to help oneself by helping others.

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, www.capsante-outaouais.org