What is a Self help Group?

Self Help Groups are formed when people with the same issue or health condition come together to support each other, share information and advocate on their own behalf. The group can be large or small (say 3 to 30 members), formal or informal, funded or unfunded, social or activist.

Group members may opt to engage in one or a number of activities such as providing practical, emotional or social support to members, publishing educative material such as videos, newsletters, brochures, websites etc, lobbying for better services, fighting stigma, fundraising for research, advocating on behalf of members, raising community awareness and many others.

People often start self help groups because they perceive a gap in existing health care or other services. They want to help smooth the path for others by sharing the knowledge and experience they have gained on their own journey. The decline of informal community networks such as extended family and friends can also be a factor in the development of self help and support groups.

Benefits of Self Help Groups

The 1999 Report of the United States Surgeon General notes that one of the greatest contributions of consumer organisations has been the proliferation of self help groups that have improved the lives of thousands of patients.

Tips for New Groups

(If group members are unclear there can be problems later on. It is important that everyone is in agreement about why the group exists. Generally groups exist for mutual support and information sharing, but can also be for advocacy, fundraising, research, lobbying, community education, campaigning for change, providing services to members or a combination of any or all of the above.)

Professionals and Self Help Groups Working Together

active support

Some self help groups value and want professional involvement in their group.

Many professionals have been slow to accept self help groups as an effective adjunct to main stream care. There is considerable evidence to suggest self help groups are a valid means of allowing individuals to take responsibility for their own health issues and that involvement in them often produces better health outcomes.

Self help groups’ commitment to democratic processes often casts them as a threat to established power structures such as health professionals and policy makers.

The experience of self help groups shows that professionals can play a positive role in the activities of the group, developing skills and encouraging partnership in decision making.

Self Help Groups and GPs Developing Working Relationships

Many GP’s are very supportive of the activities of self help and support groups, often encouraging their patients to join, or even start a group. However, there still seem to be some commonly held fears about referring patients to self help groups. Groups in our network sometimes report to Self Help Queensland that they rarely, if ever, receive referrals from GP’s.

To Incorporate or NOT Incorporate

At some stage in the life of a not for profit group, the question of incorporation will arise. Whether to incorporate or not requires careful consideration. Taking on legal responsibilities is a big step for self help groups, so it is vital to ascertain if incorporation is really needed. Generally, the issue of incorporation comes into play when members of a management committee seek to reduce their personal liability. Other important factors such as set up costs, ongoing statutory fees, bookkeeping and audit fees and compliance with regulations need to be considered

Record Keeping and Self-Help Groups

While there is no legal responsibility for some groups to record minutes of meetings, it is still a very good idea to do so. A record of a meeting has many benefits:

Where and When to Meet

before dawn

The meeting place is a key component of the self help group. Public libraries, churches, schools, community halls and neighbourhood centres are typically chosen meeting places. Libraries and churches are often available free of charge. Some informal groups are happy to meet in coffee shops or public parks. If, however, a free venue is not available, you will often be able to obtain a lower rate as a non-profit enterprise.


For new groups in particular, it is not essential to focus on funding at the outset. This can come later, once the group decides on its function and has had time to meld.

A gold coin donation at the door is usually sufficient to cover the cost of morning tea while the group is in the early stages of its formation.

How can Facebook Help Your Group?

You might consider setting up a FB group for your support group. FB groups can help you connect with people who might want to attend your group. It’s a good way to boost group numbers, it’s an excellent communication tool between meetings AND it’s free AND if you like we can help you set it up and get it running

Close Menu