self-help group, nonprofessional organization formed by people with a common problem or situation, for the purpose of pooling resources, gathering information, and offering mutual support, services, or care. Self-help groups began to spread in the United States following World War II and proliferated rapidly in the 1960s and 70s. Among these groups are such organizations as Alcoholics Anonymous and those for the victims and families of victims of specific diseases, child abuse, suicide, and crime. Groups concerned with a shared situation include those for the elderly, single parents, and homosexuals. The definition of such groups sometimes includes social-advocacy organizations and halfway services (e.g., drug rehabilitation centers). Although self-help groups may draw on, or offer a bridge to, professional assistance, free services are usually provided by the members themselves through meetings, publications, the Internet, and individual contacts.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.