Support groups really help people

Self-help - exchange experiences, experience community, help yourself

What is a support group?

People with the same illness or disability meet in a self-help group. There they exchange ideas about their problems and find help. Relatives also receive support. Participation is voluntary and usually free of charge.

There are self-help groups for almost all permanent illnesses, for example respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular illnesses, cancer, mental impairments or illnesses as well as addiction problems. It is estimated that there are more than 70,000 self-help groups in Germany. 3.5 million people take part - around one in 20 people.

How do support groups work?

Each self-help group has its own way of working. Regular roundtables are common: some meet weekly, others monthly or even less often. Each group decides for itself.

Often every participant can talk about their current state of health. There is a firm rule: what is discussed in the group is confidential and will not be disclosed to the outside world.

Some self-help groups determine a topic for the next meeting in advance. The groups sometimes invite experts, such as a doctor, to do this.

What can I expect there?

Participants in self-help groups often report the following benefits:

  • They experience that they are not alone with their problem and their situation.
  • They can communicate and experience understanding from people in a situation similar to that which they do not always experience in families and friendships.
  • They discover new ways to cope with their everyday problems and receive lots of practical tips. They also learn to deal better with their feelings and thoughts.

Some participants also spend their free time together and do a lot. Sometimes this leads to friendships.

But there are also people who find it stressful to experience problems and complaints from others. And not everyone likes to talk about themselves or their illness in front of others. Or maybe you don't want to see how severe an illness can be. You can first seek advice and then take your time to decide whether participating in a self-help group is right for you.

What else does self-help offer?

Often several self-help groups for the same clinical picture join together to form a nationwide self-help organization. Such organizations offer information and advice on all phases of a particular disease: diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, long-term care. The focus here is on the experience of those affected.

Non-members can also seek advice. There are also often special offers for relatives. In addition, many self-help organizations inform the public about the respective illness and the concerns of those affected. With this they want to work towards changes towards experts and politicians.

Where can I find a self-help group?

There are several ways to find a support group:

You can look for a self-help organization on your specific topic, for example on the Internet. They can then put you in touch with a regional self-help group.

The easiest way is through a self-help contact point. These switching centers exist nationwide. Regardless of your illness, they can tell you which support groups are in your area. They also help to found new groups.

The national contact and information point for the suggestion and support of self-help groups (NAKOS) operates online databases: There you can enter your specific request, your topic or your location in the search fields and find a self-help address.

What you can do yourself

  • A self-help group cannot replace a visit to the doctor. The medical examinations and treatments are planned specifically for you and are based on your personal situation. Despite the same illness, the treatments can be different. Self-help groups can serve as additional support.
  • Please note: Anyone who is in an acute emergency should seek medical help first.
  • Medical knowledge can also be a burden. You have a right not to want to know some things. Therefore, consider what you want to find out in exchange with other affected people and what you don't.
  • Think carefully about how much you would like to tell others about your state of health, for example in a face-to-face conversation or in Internet forums.
  • Remember that e-mail is like a postcard that people who were not intended to read it can read it. Don't just email your medical history to a self-help organization or health information provider.
  • If you have problems related to sick leave, work, insurance and family support, you can get advice from a self-help organization.
  • You can get addresses, support and information material from:
    • Federal Working Group on Self-Help for People with Disabilities, Chronic Illnesses and their Relatives e. V. (BAG SELF-HELP)
      Telephone 0211 31006 0
      Fax 0211 31006 48
      Email [email protected]
September 2019, published by the German Medical Association and the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians