How effective are support groups and What can they do for you?

Posted on Posted in Coping with Trauma, Self-Help Therapies, Support Groups

Self-help groups are effective for helping people cope with, and recover from, a wide variety of problems (Solomon, 2004;Kyrouz et al, 2002). German Talking Groups have been shown to be as effective as professional psychoanalytically oriented group therapy (Moeller, 1999; Daum, 1984). Members of self-help groups for mental health rated their perception of the group’s effectiveness on average at 4.3 on a 5-point Likert psychometric scale (Knight et al, 1999).

Participation in self-help groups for mental health is correlated with reductions in psychiatric hospitalizations, and shorter hospitalizations if they occur. Members demonstrate

  • improved coping skills or ability to deal with negative situation,
  • greater acceptance of their illness,
  • improved willingness to take medication as prescribed,
  • decreased levels of worry,
  • higher satisfaction with their health,
  • improved daily functioning and
  • improved illness management.

Participation in self-help groups for mental health encourages more appropriate use of professional services, making the time spent in care more efficient. The amount of time spent in the programs, and how proactive the members are in them, has also been correlated with increased benefits (Solomon et al, 2004; Powell, 2000). Decreased hospitalization and shorter durations of hospitalization indicate that self-help groups result in financial savings for the health care system, as hospitalization is one of the most expensive mental health services. Similarly, reduced utilization of other mental health services may translate into additional savings for the system (Solomon et al, 2004).

While self-help groups for mental health increase self-esteem, reduce stigma, accelerate rehabilitation, improve decision-making, decrease tendency to become disfunctional when under stress, and improve social functioning, they are not always shown to reduce psychiatric symptomatology (Davidson, 2009; Dean, 1971; Kaufman, 1996). The therapeutic effects are attributed to the increased social support, sense of community, education and personal empowerment (Hatzidimitriadou, 2002; Kurtz, 1990; Maton, 1988).

Support groups are hence not a substitute for professional mental health care but rather a useful and often necessary adjunct that increase the efficiency of treatment, speeds up recovery time and helps with reintegration into society and helps prevent recurrences of mental issues.



Solomon, Phyllis (2004). “Peer support/peer provided services underlying processes, benefits, and critical ingredients”. Psychiatric rehabilitation journal. 27 (4): 392–401. doi:10.2975/27.2004.392.401. ISSN 1095-158X. PMID 15222150.

Davidson, Larry; Chinman, Matthew; Kloos, Bret; Weingarten, Richard; Stayner, David; Kraemer, Jacob (1999). “Peer Support Among Individuals with Severe Mental Illness: A Review of the Evidence”. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. 6 (2):

Dean, Stanley R. (January 1971). “The Role of Self-Conducted Group Therapy”. American Journal of Psychiatry. 127 (7): 934–937. doi:10.1176/ajp.127.7.934. ISSN 0002-953X. PMID 5540340

Moeller, Michael L. (1999). “History, Concept and Position of Self-Help Groups in Germany”. Group Analysis. 32 (2): 181–194. doi:10.1177/05333169922076653. ISSN 0533-3164.

Powell, Thomas J.; Hill, Elizabeth M.; Warner, Lynn; Yeaton, Willian; Silk, Kenneth R. (2000). “Encouraging People With Mood Disorders to Attend a Self-Help Group”. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 20 (11): 2270–2288.

Kaufman, C. L. (1996). “The lion’s den: Social identities and self help groups”. The Community Psychologist. 29: 11–13.

Knight, Bob; Wollert, Richard W.; Levy, Leon H.; Frame, Cynthia L.; Padgett, Valerie P. (February 1980). “Self-help groups: The members’ perspectives”. American Journal of Community Psychology. 8 (1): 53–65. doi:10.1007/BF00892281. ISSN 0091-0562. PMID 7369192.

Kyrouz, Elaina M.; Humphreys, Keith; Loomis, Colleen (October 2002). “Chapter 4: A Review of Research on the Effectiveness of Self-help Mutual Aid Groups”

Hatzidimitriadou, E. (2002). “Political ideology, helping mechanisms and empowerment of mental health self-help/mutual aid groups”. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology. 12 (4): 271–285. doi:10.1002/casp.681. ISSN 1099-1298. OCLC 43956503.

Kurtz, Linda (1990). “The self-help movement: review of the past decade of research”. Social Work with Groups. 13 (3): 101–115. doi:10.1300/J009v13n03_11. ISSN 0160-9513.

Maton, Kenneth I. (February 1988). “Social support, organizational characteristics, psychological wellbeing and group appraisal in three self-help populations”. American Journal of Community Psychology. 16 (1): 53–77. doi:10.1007/BF00906072. ISSN 0091-0562. PMID 3369383.

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