Our definition of a Self-Help group is one where the members usually come together around a single issue like illness or addiction. There is generally no fee except perhaps a nominal one for rent of the room, tea, coffee etc. The group is usually led by a member who is not in the role of a therapist and who does not receive a professional fee.

Most support groups in the self-help world are about consciousness raising. One of the primary benefits of such groups to members is that it provides information so that members have accurate and verifiable data that helps them cope with whatever has drawn them to such groups in the first place.

While most self-help groups work quietly in the background, there are some that see themselves as having a broader responsibility. This can include efforts to heighten the awareness of the issue they contend with in the public arena. This can be for many reasons, among them being the political objective of ensuring that those affected by the particular interest of the group are not forgotten and allowed to slip into obscurity. Another reason may be, at times, to ensure currency in the public mind so that funding for research or support from government agencies is maintained.

The majority of self-help support groups are for people who, in one way or another, are suffering or whose lives are disrupted by the particular reasons for the group’s existence, eg. alcohol, abuse, food, illness, etc. It is easy to see the reason for these groups because they provide an incalculable service to their members and to those people associated with them; family, friends and partners. Some kinds of groups are not as clear as others in making the distinc­tion between self-help support and what might be called self-help therapy.

There are many things and circumstances in peoples’ lives that cause pain and distress, both emotionally an physically. Self-help groups may be an answer in terms of support, reduction of anxiety, education or acceptance.

There is also a major industry surrounding the self-help world. There are myriads of “How to …” and “You can …” books and tapes on the market. What is their value? What do they contribute? Are their often simplistic solutions dangerous? Are they more trouble than they are worth because they make it seem easy to achieve change in even the most emotionally turbulent life?

Where does self-help leave off and therapy begin? Most of the contributors to this issue recognise there is a clear distinction between therapy and what they do. It is true that people often find their way to more formal therapy as a result of the introduction to personal awareness and development that they experi­ence through self-help support groups.

We hope you enjoy reading the various contributions within. The Winter issue will be published in Early December and will have the theme “Joy and Ritual”.