Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Geoffrey Nelson

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


In this study I sought to find out how self-help groups and professionals perceive and relate to one another. The stakeholders involved in this study were self-help group members (psychiatric consumers/survivors and families and friends of consumers/survivors) and community-based and hospital-based professionals. The research questions were as follows: 1. What are the experiences and views of consumers/survivors and family self- help group members with regard to community-based and hospital-based professionals? 2. What are the experiences and views of community-based and hospital-based professionals with regard to consumers/survivors and family self-help groups? 3. What kind of relationship with professionals do self-helpers want? I hoped that by giving self-help group members and professionals the opportunity to discuss these issues they would be able to speak openly and begin to understand and educate each other; thus, this research could contribute to the creation of a framework for support for consumers/survivors. There were 18 professionals and 16 self-helpers who participated in this project. The study utilized a participatory research method, which emphasized stakeholder involvement in all phases of the research. The project involved five phases. Phase 1 involved setting up the core group (committee) of five people from self-help groups and professional groups. This committee helped to design and plan the study. Phase 2 involved consulting with the immediate groups (e.g., self-help groups and agencies) to inform members about the purpose of the study and to ask constituent members to participate. Phase 3 involved gathering data in six focus groups. In Phase 4, I analyzed the data. Finally, in Phase 5, I gave feedback to the core group as well as to the participants and organizations involved. The following areas emerged from the data analysis: 1. defining characteristics of “self-help groups”, 2. barriers and conflicts between self- help groups and professionals. 3. current relationships between self-help groups and professionals, 4. desired relationships between self-help groups and professionals, and 5. strategies to promote the desired relationships between self-help groups and professionals. The barriers and conflicts identified in this study are about education, power, negative attitudes, communication, ideologies, lack of support, and knowledge. There were positive and negative aspects of relationships expressed by both self-help group members and professionals. Positive factors, as described by self-helpers and professionals, include: mutual help, collaboration, sharing, and respect. The negative aspects that were identified concern conflict, different ideologies, lack of support, disappointment, distance, authoritarianism, resistance to change, and role. Both self –help group members and professionals thought that mutual respect, collaboration, better service delivery, education, and partnership are key elements to improving relationships. The effective characteristics of partnership, according to participants, are respect, collaboration, communication, democratic participation and sharing resources. Professionals thought that partnerships should be on an equal basis (i.e., equal roles, equal power, and equal representation). However, self-help groups indicated that equal partnerships are not likely, because of inherent inequalities with regards to education, power, funding, and resources. The strategy to achieve the desired relationship is consumer participation. Effective participation will necessitate reallocation of power from professionals to consumers/survivors and family caregivers. In the new paradigm, consumers/survivors will be involved in planning and decision making, instead of professionals deciding what consumers need. The steps toward consumer participation include: promotion and encouragement of consumer participation, education, involvement in local agencies and decision-making. To utilize the findings presented in this study, it is necessary to understand that new ways of thinking are required to develop strategies to improve the relationships between self-help groups and professionals.

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