Sociological perspectives on self-help groups: reflections on conceptualization and social processes
Aim. The paper discusses two themes: first, professional involvement in self-help groups and secondly, sociological evidence on self-help groups in postmodern society.
Background. Self-help groups are a growing phenomenon across national borders and social/political systems. They affect the individual participants’ activity level, strengthening of their self-perception and sense of belonging.
Methods. The methodological approach chosen is cross-sectional analysis of empirical findings, which is used for concept evaluation. Selected sociological theory is brought into the discussion of the role and significance of self-help groups.
Findings. New empirical sociological evidence shows that health care professionals – nurses, psychologists, social workers – have become an integrated part and thus essential actors in self-help groups within as well as outside the framework of the formal health care system. Involvement in self-help groups is a relatively new area of nursing practice and nursing research and serves an important function in that it sheds light on a rather unique form of social practice that is partly organized and managed by the participants themselves. By implementing modern sociological theory, which does in fact discuss social processes and relations as well as network formation, it is possible to investigate group processes unique to self-help groups and whether self-help groups potentially suppress or liberate at the individual as well as at the institutional level.
Conclusions. The pronounced professional involvement leads us to question if it would not be time to re-conceptualize the self-help phenomenon, which on the one hand presupposes professional interaction and on the other hand introduces consultative services in connection with group processes. This indicates that it is necessary to introduce new aspects and themes for discussion in the health care debate and the work that goes beyond the predominantly individual orientated treatment and care function.