What is a Self-help Group?

Self-help groups form when people with a similar issue or health condition come together to support each other, share information and advocate on their behalf. The group can be large or small (3 to 30 members), formal or informal, funded or unfunded, social or activist.

Group members may opt to engage in one or several 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 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

  • For many people, finding out they are ‘not the only one’ is one of the major benefits of self-help groups.
  • Common ground and a common language help participants ‘feel normal’ again.
  • Self-help groups provide a comparative perspective of one’s own problems.
  • Reduced depression has been documented as a benefit of a self-help group membership.
  • For many participants, group membership provides benefits which go beyond the support for their condition. These benefits include friendship and emotional support, increased self-esteem, improved communication skills etc.

Tips for New Groups

If group members are unclear, there can be problems later on. Everyone must be in agreement about why the group exists. Generally, groups exist for mutual support and information sharing. Still, they 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 a useful adjunct to mainstream care. There is considerable evidence to suggest self-help groups are a valid means of allowing individuals to take responsibility for their 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