of Interest - Self-Help & Support Groups
New Self-Help or Support Group
The following guidelines are based on the experiences of the
American & N.J.
For more articles like this
is no one recipe for starting a group in your community
(different national groups rely on different models), we have
listed a few ideas you may find helpful.
Self-Help Clearinghouse offers a wonderful, up-to-date
compilation of self-help resources and support groups in the
world entitled "Self-Help Group Sourcebook: Your Guide to
Community & Online Self-Help Support Groups". It is now
available for purchase for $15.00 + $3.00 S/H. I
personally own a copy and refer to it constantly. For more
information, click here.
Table of Contents
Don't Re-invent the Wheel
Chances are that a group focused on your particular concern
already exists. If you have a local self-help clearinghouse
serving your area, call to confirm that there isn't already a
group in you area. Check the database here. If you find an
existing national group, contact them and ask for any "how-to"
guide or starter packet they may have. Ask about group leaders
nearest to you and consider calling them. If you are contacting
a model group for your issue, ask if they might send you sample
material they have used (flyer, press releases, etc.). If there
is a local self-help clearinghouse in your area, also determine
from them what assistance they can provide to you in developing
your group. If you can, consider attending a meeting of one or
two other local self-help groups that may be somewhat somewhat
similar to the group you are starting, simply to get a feel for
how they operate, then borrow what you consider their best
techniques to use in your own group. Before going to any such
group, call first and ask if you may attend.
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Think "Mutual-Help" From the Start
You do not have to start a group by yourself. There are others
who share your problem.
Find a few others who share your interest by circulating a flyer
or letter that specifically cites how if one is interested in
"joining with others to help start" such a group, they can
contact you. Include your first name, phone number, and any
other relevant information. Make copies and post them at places
you feel are appropriate, e.g., library, community center,
clinic, or post office. Mail copies to key people whom you think
would know others like yourself. You can also ask if the notice
might be published in your local church bulletin and newspaper.
When, hopefully, you receive a response, discuss with the caller
what their interests are and what you would like the group to
do. Ask if they would be willing to share the responsibilities
of organizing a group for a specific period of time. By
involving several people in the initial work of the first
meeting, they will model for newcomers what your self-help
mutual aid group is all about: a cooperative effort.
Also, consider obtaining the assistance of any professionals who
may be sensitive to your needs and willing to assist you in your
efforts. Physicians, clergy, and social workers may be helpful
in various ways, from providing meeting space to locating needed
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Find a Suitable Meeting Place and Time
Try to obtain free meeting space at a local church, library,
community center, hospital, or social service agency. Chairs
should be arranged in a circle and avoid a lecture set-up.
If you anticipate a small group and feel comfortable with the
idea, consider initial meetings in members' homes. Also, try and
set a convenient time for people to remember the meeting, e.g.,
the first Tuesday of the month.
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Publicize and Run your First Public Meeting
To reach potential members, consider where they might go to seek
Would they be seen by particular professionals or agencies? If
the answer is yes, try contacting these professionals. Posting
announcements in the community calendar section of a local
newspaper, library or community center can be especially
helpful. The key is to get the word out.
The first meeting should be arranged so that there will be ample
time for you and other core group members to describe your
interest and work, while allowing others the opportunity to
share their view of how they would like to see the group
function. Identify common needs the group can address. Although
you do not want to overload you new arrivals with information,
you do want to stress the seriousness of you intent and the
necessity of their participation. Make plans for the next
meeting and consider having an opportunity for people to talk
and socialize informally after the meeting.
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For future meetings consider the following:
Purpose: Establish the purpose of the group. Is the purpose
clear? Groups often focus upon providing emotional support,
practical information, education, and sometimes advocacy. Also
determine any basic guidelines your group will have for meetings
(to possibly ensure that group discussions are confidential,
non-judgmental, and informative.
Membership: Who can attend meetings and who cannot? Do you want
membership limited to those with the problem? Will there be
membership dues? If so, how much?
Meeting Format: How will the meeting be structured? How much
time will be devoted to business affairs, discussion time,
planning future meetings, and socializing? What topics will be
selected? Can guest speakers be invited? If the group grows too
large, consider breaking down into smaller sub-groups of 7 to
Roles and Responsibilities: Continue to share and delegate the
work and responsibilities in the group. Who will be the phone
contact for the group? Do you want officers? Consider additional
roles members can play in making the group work. In asking for
volunteers, it is sometimes easier to first ask the group what
specific tasks they think would be helpful.
Phone Network: Many groups encourage the exchange of telephone
numbers or an internal phone list to provide help to members
between meetings. Ask your membership if they would like this
Use of Professionals: Consider using professionals as advisors,
consultants, or speakers to your groups, and as sources of
continued referrals and information.
Projects: Always begin with small projects, then work your way
up to more difficult tasks.
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Stay in touch with the needs of your members. Periodically ask
new members about their needs and what they think both they and
the group can do to meet them. Similarly, be sure to avoid the
pitfall of core group members possibly forming a clique.
Expect your group to experience "ups and downs" in terms of
attendance and enthusiasm. It's natural and should be expected.
You may want to consider joining or forming an informal
coalition of association of leaders from the same or similar
groups, for your own periodic mutual support and the sharing of
program ideas and successes.
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New Hard Copy of Sourcebook
The new 448-page 7th Edition of our Self-Help Group Sourcebook:
Your Guide to Community & Online Self-Help Support Groups,
published Fall, 2002, by American Self-Help Group Clearinghouse,
St. Clares Health Services, NJ, is available for $15 plus $3
This new edition provides
information on 1,100 national, international, model, and online
"self-help" support groups for most any illness, disability,
addiction, bereavement situation, parenting concern, caregiver,
abuse, or other stressful life situation.
Includes chapters on: how to start
a community mutual aid self-help group; finding and forming
online groups; local self-help group clearinghouses worldwide;
understanding the value and dynamics of groups; and a review of
empirical research studies done of self-help groups (compiled by
Drs. Kyrouz, Humphreys & Loomis at Stanford School of Medicine),
and a listing of over 300 additional national toll-free
specialty helplines. Has both a keyword index, and a separate
index for group names.
Foreword by the late Dr. Alfred
Katz, U.C.L.A. departments of Medicine, Public Health, and
Social Welfare. Introduction by Dr. Phyllis Silverman, Dept. of
Psychiatry, Harvard University. ISBN: 1-930683-00-6.
To order, mail $18 check made out to "St. Clare's Health
American Self-Help Group Clearinghouse
Attn: Sourcebook Online
100 Hanover Ave., Rm 202
Cedar Knolls NJ 07927-2020.
Or order by VISA or Mastercard, by phoning 973-326-6789, any
weekday, 8:30am - 5PM Eastern.
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