Psychological Self-Help

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79
workers, parents, and children. If professionals are consulted, it's most
likely to be the family physician and clergy. Talking with anyone is a
good first step but neither (MD nor minister) may be good choices for
extensive help; physicians primarily give drugs, seldom information
about how to cope; some clergy specialize in building guilt, not
reducing stress. For the most competent professional help with
anxiety, go to your Mental Health Center for treatment or call and ask
them to recommend a good private practitioner. 
Currently, many millions of Americans are in support or self-help
groups dealing with over 350 different kinds of problems. Self-help,
sometimes called mutual help, groups are a growing source of help. AA
was one of the first such groups, then women's consciousness-raising
groups caught on in the 1960's. Now there are self-help groups for
almost every conceivable problem. They often limit admission to
people who have personally had the problem being discussed; usually
no professionals or "experts" are admitted. This makes it clear that
your improvement is your job, not in the hands of a "doctor." Members
of the groups share experiences, exchange practical information or
advice, and provide emotional support. Members feel better about
themselves by helping each other. Often the groups are so helpful that
members become intensely involved and dedicated. It is comforting to
be truly welcomed and understood by fellow sufferers. There is no
charge. 
Science is just beginning to evaluate the effectiveness of different
sources of support for different problems. A famous 10-year study at
Stanford found that cancer patients who participated in a support
group lived twice as long as those who didn't meet with a group.
Groups no longer have to meet face-to-face; within the last five years,
four research publications have documented the effectiveness of online
cancer support groups. Likewise, drug abuse prevention groups run by
older students (but still peers) get better results than teacher-led
groups. Many self-help group members are veterans of drug treatment
and psychotherapy; many believe they have gotten much more from
Online (http://www.selfhelpgroups.org/) summarizes more research
suggesting groups provide help also with diabetes, heart problems,
child abuse, mental illness (to both the patient and the family),
children of alcoholics, and other disorders or difficult circumstances. 
Self-help or mutual-helping groups provide many benefits:
suggestions about how to cope, a chance to learn from others'
experience, support and encouragement, meaningful and needed
friendships, and a reduction of guilt (by finding others like yourself),
and an increase in hope (Hodgson & Miller, 1982). Another major
advantage of mutual-helping groups is that they are not only a source
of support but they are also a place where the helpee can become the
helper. It's probably as beneficial to be a helper as to be a helpee,
maybe more so (Killilea, 1976). For more information about such
groups refer to Lieberman and Borman's (1979) Self-help Groups For
Coping With Crises.
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