It's not easy to capture the value of self-help groups through empirical studies. But some researchers have partnered with self-help groups to find appropriate ways. For those with interest, here are some studies. Several professionally run support group studies are included. Teachers at all levels might note that the personal stories which people tell within and about mutual help groups can often convey more understanding of their value - consider adding it to the curriculum. For the most comprehensive compilation of outcome studies that have examined only self-help groups, see the Research on Self-Help/Mutual Aid Groups review by Drs. Kyrouz and Humphreys at Stanford School of Medicine.
Results of a University of Chicago Medical School study of older men with DIABETES found that those who learn self-care techniques and participate in member-run support groups two years later are less depressed, less stressed, gain more knowledge, and rate the quality of their lives higher than those who didn't take such actions ("Diabetes Support Groups Improve Health of Older Diabetic Patients" by Janice Gilden M.D., et.al., "Journal of the American Geriatrics Society." vol. 40, pp 147-150, January, 1992). One of the researchers, Dr. Michael Hendryx, also noted that "a group leader does not have to be experienced for the session to be valuable."
Similar research on group benefits has already shown the value of groups for YOUNG DIABETICS ("Effects of Peer-Group Intervention on Metabolic Control of Adolescents With IDDM" by Barbara Anderson, et. al., "Diabetes Care," vol. 12, no. 3, March 1989, pp. 179-183), suggesting that "problem-solving groups can be more effective with young adolescents with IDDM than conventional treatment."
A Duke University study in the Journal of the American Medical Society (vol. 267, no. 4, pp. 520-524), examined 1,368 HEART PATIENTS over time and found that those persons who lacked a spouse or confidant were three times as likely to die within 5 years of diagnosis than those who were married or had a close friend. As reported in the New York Times of Feb. 5, 1992, Duke researchers noted that... "A support group may be as effective as costly medical treatment."
In terms of addiction, research reported in the "American Journal of Psychiatry" (vol. 151, February, 1994, pages 254-259) by James McKay and colleagues reflected how a sample of 180 substance dependent, low income patients (who were 82% African American), showed that post treatment self-help group affiliation predicted lower rates of SUBSTANCE ABUSE after treatment. They showed that this effect was not due to patient motivation or any other individual characteristic, and they did not just rely on self-report, but also did urine tests.
In a study reported in the "Archives of General Psychiatry," 1993, Dr. Fawzy I. Fawzy found results that suggest that being part of a support group for persons at the early stages of SKIN CANCER can increase their chance of survival threefold over a five-year period. Six months after the group sessions ended, two-thirds of the patients in the professionally assisted support groups showed an increase of 25 percent or more in what are called natural killer cells, cancer fighting cells in the immune system. No such increase was found in the control group.
In his noted research, Dr. David Spiegel of Stanford University, noted that women with BREAST CANCER in a professionally run support group, where one of the professional facilitators had breast cancer, the group members had a survival rate double that of the control group. ("Effect of Psychosocial Treatment on Survival of Patients with Metastatic Breast Cancer by Speigel, D, J. R. Bloom, H. C. Kraemer, & Gottheil, E., "The Lancet," 8668, 2, 1989, pp. 888-891).
Patients DISCHARGED FROM A PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL who participated in a Community Network Development (CND) Program required one-half as much rehospitalization, ten months after discharge, as a comparable group of non-participating ex-patients. Self-help and mutual support were emphasized in the CND program. CND ex-patients also required one-third as many patient days of rehospitalization (7 vs 25 days) and a significantly smaller percentage of them needed to continue to attend Community Mental Health Centers and other mental health agencies for services (48% vs 74%). (Gordon, R.E., Edmunson, E., and Bedell, J. "Reducing rehospitalization of state mental patients: Peer management and support." In A. Jeger and R. Slotnick (Eds.) "Community Mental Health," New York: Plenum, 1982.)
Volunteer leaders in Recovery, Inc., a self-help group for people who have been treated for MENTAL HEALTH problems (half of whom had been hospitalized for mental illness) felt they benefited from their participation. Leaders' ratings of their overall satisfaction with life and health, as well as their satisfaction with work, leisure, and community were high, and equivalent to the general public's levels of satisfaction. (Raiff, N.R. "Self-help participation and quality of life: A study of Recovery, Inc.", "Prevention in Human Services," 1 (3), 1982.
CHILDREN OF PARENTS WITH DRINKING PROBLEMS who participated in Alateen, a self-help group sponsored by Alcoholics Anonymous, suffered less emotional and social disturbance than peers who did not belong. (Hughes, J.M. "Adolescent children of alcoholic parents and the relationship of Alateen to these children" in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 45 (5), 1977.
Participating in a self-help group for FAMILIES OF PSYCHIATRIC PATIENTS reduced the family's sense of burden. Members found the group helpful because it provided them with information about schizophrenia and coping strategies which professionals didn't provide. Participation also helped parents to develop supportive social bonds with others who were experiencing similar problems. (Potasznik, H. & Nelson, G. "Stress and social support: The Burden Experienced by the Family of a Mentally Ill Person. American Journal of Community Psychology, 12 (5), 1984.
Parents Anonymous seeks to break the vicious cycle of CHILD ABUSE by halting parental abuse of children who would otherwise grow up to be abusive parents themselves. An independent national evaluation of Parents Anonymous conducted by Behavior Associates of Tucson, Arizona revealed that of the 19% of group members who physically abused their children on a daily basis before joining Parents Anonymous, only 1% reported continuing such abuse immediately after joining the group. "Parents Anonymous Frontiers" Newsletter, (Winter, 1976).
Another study found that Parents Anonymous parents reported that they gained insight into their reactions to the abuse they typically experienced as children and that they learned new ways of expressing love and affection to their own children. (Comstock, C. M. "Preventive processes in self-help groups: Parents Anonymous" in Prevention in Human Services: Helping People Help Themselves, 1 (3), 1982.
Participants in national self-help group for parents of young drug and alcohol abusers -- (PRIDE - Parent Resources Institute for Drug Education) -- reported that their participation was associated with improvement in their children's DRUG PROBLEM. A majority of the participants also reported improvements in their children's general discipline problems and in adjustment outside the home. (Galanter, M.D., Gleaton, T., Marcus, C.E. & McMillen, J. "Self-help groups for parents of young adults and alcohol abusers" in the American Journal of Psychiatry, 141 (7), 1984.