Support groups (GAM): what they are and what values ​​they promote

Mental health support groups they have positioned themselves in an important way as one of the most effective strategies to support and improve situations of psychological suffering linked to different experiences.

Taking as a reference different guides for Self-Help Groups in Mental Health, developed by the associative group in the first person actively (2014; 2018), we will explain below some of the main characteristics and functions of these groups.

    Collective help strategies: self-help groups

    Self-help groups (GAM) are spaces where different people share life experiences related to a problem or specific difficulty. People come together and share these experiences with the intention of improving their situation, learning collectively and supporting each other.

    These are groups that have been around for a long time and may vary depending on the specific experience shared. There are now groups for people in a situation of dependency, or for people in mourning, or for those who have a common illness, or for relatives of those who have a diagnosis, among others. many others.

    In the specific case of self-help groups for people who have a common experience of a diagnosis of a mental disorder, these are usually informal spaces where people share their experiences in an open and reciprocal manner.

    Outraged, they aim to give up the role of patient, Which help address the various challenges generated by the stigma and self-stigma that accompany diagnoses of mental disorders. While the central theme is the experience of mental illness (which may or may not include a diagnosis), the meetings also address issues of each person’s daily and personal lives.

    5 functions of a GAM

    There are a number of elements that are necessary for a group to be seen not only as a group of people who come together and talk about their life experiences, but as a support group, where beyond the sharing of these experiences, it is about try that its members improve their situation in a supported and reciprocal manner. Some of the main features of GAMs are:

    1. Share experiences and needs

    Since the main purpose of self-help groups is, as the name suggests, to help each other, it is essential that the aid is on the same experience. These can connect with other experiences, which will be different from those of other people, however, there must be one that they all have in common.

    2. Participation on its own initiative

    Another characteristic of self-help groups is that the same person who has the experience voluntarily decides to attend meetings and be part of the group. No one is obliged to participate, and this participation is not done by compulsory prescription from an external person. It’s about trying that the person who has the experience actively positions himself confronted with this.

    The above is important in the case of people who have a mental health diagnosis or experience mental distress, as they are often assigned and take on passive and powerless roles.

      3. Periodic meetings

      Self-help groups need to meet frequently in order to achieve their goals. In other words, self-help groups do not meet once. It is very important that members bond with each other and recognize their own needs and those of others with sufficient confidence and complicity so that the meetings have a certain continuity.

      4. Small groups

      To foster a climate of trust and complicity, it is important that the GAMs are made up of a small number of people. This makes it easier for all members to participate and share their experiences with a feeling of closeness.

      outraged this facilitates the organization of the group by other means, Ranging from word of mouth to interpersonal knowledge. It shouldn’t be too small a group either. Between 5 and 10 members is a recommended number.

      5. Horizontality (no hierarchies)

      One of the most important characteristics of self-help groups is that there are no differences in roles between members. They are based on the principle of horizontality, which means that there are no different hierarchies. In this way, the rules relating to group moderation are the responsibility of the whole group.

      The principle of horizontality makes it possible to establish a climate of trust and complicity and, unlike what happens in therapeutic sessions, the people who are part of the GAM acquire an active role in the face of their own experience.

        The main values ​​of a GAM

        The voices of all peoples are recognized with equal importance. One of the most important values ​​of mental health support groups is respect, which involves valuing diversity and encouraging that everyone can make their own voice heard, With their own ideas and life experiences. In the same sense, the value of inclusion is very important, ensuring that all people can share their voices in equal opportunities. And also on the contrary: no one is obliged or forced to speak during the sessions.

        It is also important to maintain confidentiality, that is, not to share participants’ experiences with people outside the group. In this line it is also necessary maintain its commitment to the group, This means making sure that the sessions are attended regularly and devoting the necessary time to it.

        Finally, people who participate in a GAM leave with the intention of expanding their social networks, interacting with people who have similar experiences, and also avoiding the rejection that can occur in other spaces.

        Are Mental Health GAMs the Same as Group Therapy?

        The difference between GAM and group therapy is that while GAM may benefit the mental health and well-being of participants, it is not considered psychotherapy. Indeed, no figure of psychotherapist is involved in the group sessions. And they are also different from group therapy because GAMs are not part of the logic of treatmentAs participants are not expected to assume patient-therapist roles. Experiences are shared and worked out from first-person knowledge, and not from external “academic knowledge”.

        Bibliographical references:

        • ActivaMent Catalunya Associació (2018). Guide for First Person Mental Health Support Groups. Activated x sanity. Accessed June 20, 2018.Available at
        • Association of Catalonia active (2014). Support groups. Guide document for the creation and management of self-help groups in mental health. Accessed June 19, 2018.Available at

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