Monday, January 14, 2008


There are many advantages to support groups, both virtual and real. Self-help groups can be a good source of information, advice, guidance and support. They are accessible to people with common interests, convenient and inexpensive and there may be some therapeutic value from encouraging members to be both altruistic and cathartic. Supportive groups or forums may instill hope. Anonymity over the internet frees participants to explore their “true” selves without risking alienation from family and friends.

The flip side is that information, advice, and guidance can often be unreliable, or plain wrong, sometimes with disastrous results. Non-verbal cues are missed over the internet, which may lead to a misreading of the situation, and anonymity limits the ability to hold members accountable for their behaviour. When self-help groups or forums are polarised a sense of grievance can easily be ratcheted up by emotional sharing and derogatory discourse. This encourages members to engage in malicious, destructive and unproductive strategies.

If groups or forums can avoid these pitfalls they may complement professional advice, but I don't think anyone should be under the illusion that self-help groups or forums can ever replace it.


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