University of Medicine and Dentistry-NJ
Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal
are freestanding sites, located in the community, and are accessible to individuals 18 years of age and over who are diagnosed with a mental illness and have received/ are receiving mental health services (Swarbrick, 2005, 2006).
Centers are designed to offer a conducive environment where consumers can socialize with peers, meet new people, learn new skills, join self-help and advocacy groups, and enjoy recreational activities (Swarbrick & Duffy,2000).
Centers provide a place where separate self-help groups can join together and become a more powerful advocacy voice in the mental health system and the community.
An important aspect of these centers is that they provide not only a support network for consumers who feel lonely and lack emotional support, but also access to resources and support that will help them deal with day-to-day problems and life stressors (Swarbrick, 2005, 2006).
Centers provide a welcoming environment where mental health consumers feel respected and understood.
Consumers can be accepted for who they are by people who are personally familiar with many of the problems they face.
The centers offer a non-judgmental atmosphere of acceptance, trust, and empathy from people who have "been there.
Members work out problematic and personal issues and learn to become increasingly interdependent.
Involvement in self-help centers empowers consumers to gain control of their lives, revive their sense of purpose, and promote a sense of self that extends beyond their identity as consumers of mental health care (Swarbrick, 2005).
Centers are generally open 5 to 7 days per week, including evenings, weekends, and holidays (Swarbrick, 2005).
This approach is distinctly different from the traditional mental health system, which often emphasizes medicalization of human feeling and views consumers by their "diagnosis" rather than their abilities (Swarbrick, 2005).
Centers are also different from traditional mental health psychosocial programs because they are non-clinical in nature and structured to meet needs often not addressed in traditional programs.
Consumers have opportunities to assume leadership roles (and receive requisite training), which is also different from traditional programs (Swarbrick, 2005).
The locus of control is within the peer group of consumers rather than a professional domain.
Day-to-day operations are managed by peer groups of consumer-leaders who have opted to take on roles that they find interesting and/or challenging (Swarbrick, 2005, 2006).
In traditional mental health programs, consumers have limited control over and choice in their services.
Research on Self-Help Centers
An exploratory, descriptive study was conducted in 2004 to examine the relationships between social environment factors and empowerment and satisfaction (Swarbrick, 2005).
Participants ( N = 144) involved in self-help centers completed a survey designed to capture perceptions of satisfaction, empowerment, and social environment factors (see Moos, 1974, 1996, 2002), as well as demographic data and other characteristics.
Participants were generally unmarried, middle-aged, poor but living in a stable housing situation, and scored high on an empowerment scale (Swarbrick, 2005).
Significant, positive relationships between participant satisfaction and two of the three social environment factors studied (relationship and system maintenance and change) were found (Swarbrick, 2005).
The amount of support and sense of order and organization offered by the center's environment predicted satisfaction.
No significant relationships between participant empowerment and the three social environment factors studied were found, although associations were found between participant empowerment and self-help center involvement (Swarbrick, 2005).
Participants who attended frequently and for a longer period of time scored higher on the empowerment scale (Swarbrick, 2005
, M. (2006).
Consumer-operated selfhelp services.
Journal of Psychosocial Nursing
, 44 (12), 26-35.
, M. (2005).
Consumer-operated selfhelp centers: The relationship between the social environment and its association with empowerment and satisfaction.
, M., & Duffy, M. (2000, March).
Consumer-operated organizations and programs: A role for occupational therapists.
Mental Health Special Interest Quarterly, 23 , 1-4.
Margaret (Peggy) Swarbrick, PhD, OTR, CPRP, is a Post-Doctoral Fellow, at the University of Medicine and Dentistry-NJ, Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (H133P05006); and is Director, at the Institute for Wellness and Recovery Training Initiatives, Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey.