Self-Help and Serious Mental Illness

Edward L. Knight, PhD, CPRP

In This Article

What Is Self-Help?

In 1990, Carpinello and colleagues[1] asked people with serious mental illness and their families and friends to define self-help during focus group and key informant interviews. A total of 25 consumers of mental health services (patients) and 23 family members and friends participated. The following defining components of self-help emerged from these multiple perspectives:

  • "Self-help groups include people with a common bond who voluntarily come together to share, reach out, and learn from each other in a trusting, supportive, and open environment. The common bond is defined as the collective experience related to being diagnosed as having a serious mental illness (such as bipolar illness, schizophrenia, or major depression) and receiving services from the mental health system."

  • "Self-help is based on the principle of helping oneself and others at the same time. Thus, self-help is a mutual process, without a dichotomy between the helper and the person being helped. Membership in self-help is neither mandated nor charity."

  • "Membership is a self-selection process. Self-help groups grow from the bottom up or at the grass roots. Decision making rests solely in the hands of the people in...need...(of being) together, that is, group members."[1]

  • "Self-help is about sharing common experiences among people with common problems, in this case, people with serious mental illnesses."

  • "The role of professionals is to give referrals and engage in other supportive acts outside the group, not to run the groups, which would defeat the workings of self-efficacy."


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