Support: Helping You Help Yourself

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Walk into your local bookstore and you’ll find hundreds, perhaps thousands, of self-help books. You can find classic bestsellers like How to Win Friends and Influence People, along with more fanciful titles such as You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?: The Classic Self-Help Book for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder.

So, with so many self-help books out there, why would anyone with a problem need anything else? Spencer Brennan, coordinator for the Ontario Self-Help Network at the Self-Help Resource Centre, chuckles at the question. He says this is a common misconception, and adds, “Most people think that self-help is Oprah, Dr. Phil, or the self-help section in the bookstore.” But self-help is so much more.

So… what IS a self-help group?

A self-help group is a group of like-minded people who have come together around a common problem, issue, or concern. They share a common experience – for example, a chronic disease, parenting problems, or women’s issues. The focus is on emotional support, practical suggestions, and information exchange.

Groups might be as small as two people, or as large as 40. They usually run on a regular basis, and they’re always open to new people. Sometimes they’re free; or there might be a small fee to cover coffee, snacks, or the rental of the room.

Self-help groups are not led by professionals such as psychologists or therapists, but rather by a member of the group itself. The advantage of this approach is that the leader is not an outsider, and the atmosphere is likely to be more informal.

If you attend a meeting for the first time, you may think that you’re just bringing your own crisis to the group. But, explains Brennan, you’re really contributing much more; you’re “bringing a lifetime of experiences to share.” Collectively, when everyone shares those experiences, you may learn how other people dealt with problems that you’re having right now.

Does a self-help group really help?

Yes, says Aaron Bacher. He’s the chairman of the Toronto Man to Man Prostate Cancer Support Group. His group meets twice a month, typically with about 40 attendees, five of whom have been newly diagnosed with prostate cancer. At first, says Bacher, himself a long-time survivor of the disease, the newly diagnosed men may have many questions, or they may not even know what questions to ask. In either case, the group members can provide a great deal of helpful information.

Most of all, the new members need to know that prostate cancer is treatable and curable. By the end of their first meeting, says Bacher, they are “a lot less scared because they see a room full of survivors.”

How do you find a group?

There are many groups from which to choose. You can find groups for addictions, bereavement, cancer, disability, employment, parenting, HIV/AIDS, mental health, sexuality, women, and more.

To find a group that is right for you, try these tips.

  • Contact your nearest self-help centre.
  • Contact your local community information centre.
  • Look out for listings in community papers and newsletters.
  • Ask any health professionals or community workers whom you know and trust.
  • Search the Internet.
  • Check the Self-Help Resource Centre website.

If you find more than one group that seems like a good possibility, attend several until you find the group you like best. Brennan says you’ll know when you’ve found the right one, because you’ll feel safe and comfortable, you’ll find it helpful, and you’ll want to go back.

What is the Self-Help Resource Centre?

The Self-Help Resource Centre is a charitable organization, established in 1987 to facilitate the growth and development of self-help groups, networks, and resources in the Greater Toronto Area and throughout the province of Ontario. The Centre is a valuable resource if you’re looking for a group of people with whom you can discuss a particular problem in your life.

Its goals are to increase awareness about self-help in the community, and to facilitate the growth and development of self-help groups, networks, and resources.

Its database contains over 420 groups, covering a wide range of issues.

The Resource Centre runs several programs that you might find particularly helpful.

Ontario Self-Help Network

What if you can’t find a group that meets your needs? Consider starting your own group. It might sound like a difficult task, but you don’t have to do it alone. Brennan explains that the Ontario Self-Help Network will be happy to give you all the support you need to get your group off the ground, and keep it running smoothly.

Their online article “How to Start and Maintain a Self-Help Group” is now available in Arabic, Somali, Spanish and Urdu and they have a new French language resource on starting a self-help group now available for download.

Staff members are available to answer your questions, and you can also find a great deal of information from the Resource Centre website.

Family Councils’ Program

If you have a loved one who lives in a long-term care facility (nursing home), and especially if you’re preparing for an admission in the near future, you may want to check out the Family Councils’ Program.

This program helps to establish self-led, self-determining groups of family members of the residents of nursing homes. According to Barbara Leja, Outreach Coordinator, a nursing home “is a whole new world” for some people. Family members of residents find it helpful to “come together and support each other,” especially during the transition time after a resident first moves into the home.

A Family Council also provides education on how the home operates, and often brings in speakers on topics of interest, such as hearing aids or Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the group “gives families a voice in the home” and advocates for residents who can’t speak for themselves.

For more information

For more information on the Self-Help Resource Centre, call 416-487-4355 or go to For more information on the Toronto Man to Man Prostate Cancer Support Group, call 416-932-8820 or go to

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