Sometimes, the medical care of a doctor or the professional guidance of a therapist is not enough to help people cope with health problems.
"A self-help group is a group composed of members who share the same problem, and the source of help is the group itself," says Alice LeBlanc, coordinator of the Greater Washington Self-Help Coalition, which provides consultation and training for people interested in starting a self-help support group.
The intention is not to replace the work of skilled professionals but to recognize that many people can benefit from taking responsibility for their own care.
"We want to get people out of their individual isolation and into a social situation where they can share their problem with others," LeBlanc said. "They then move from being a victim to an activist."
The written instructions and guidelines for starting a group distributed by the coalition suggest ways to recruit new members, locate a meeting place and prepare an agenda of topics for discussion at the first meeting.
"It is important to look for other people to help you start a group so one person doesn't end up doing all the work," said LeBlanc. "Groups are maximally effective when the people themselves take it over."
The coalition also provides an information and referral service for existing support groups, advises professionals on how to start groups, and publishes a directory of self-help groups. For a copy of the directory (include $1.25 postage) or for more information, write: Greater Washington Self-Help Coalition, 100 N. Washington St., Room 232, Falls Church, Va. 22046, or call: 536-4100.