The Java Music Club is different from other traditional recreation programs in that it focused on group members supporting and helping one another. Peers can help one another in a way that no professional can. In a discussion of the challenges that institutionalized residents face, Berman-Rossi (2005) describes the need for mutual aid groups. He states that the institutions bear the responsibility of providing means to support residents in dealing with institutional stressors as well as ways to empower them to engage with the institutional decision-making. He contends that the mutual aid group potentially provide such a structure and give residents a means to foster resiliency in a supportive environment of their peers.
The following table is based on a concept presented by the Riessman (1965) called the helper-therapy principle that states that through helping others, not only do group members benefit but so does the group as a whole, creating a group synergy. The helper-therapy principle is similar to the concept of social support from peers but includes group members giving as well as receiving help from one another; the group as whole benefits from this unidirectional supportive structure. The following table illustrates how mutual support groups are significantly different from typical social activity groups.
|Mutual Support Groups||Typical Activity Groups
(e.g., Social Coffee Get Togethers)
|Social homogeneity: Group participants are more influenced by one another than by staff||Staff member in role of leader has more influence on group than participants do with each another|
|Self-determination: Group participants set-up, choose group topics, songs and activities||Staff members set-up group structure: Offers the activity and leads the group|
|Helper therapy: Participants supporting each other reduces feelings of dependency||Group members dependent on group leader for support|
|Group members as ‘prosumers’: Group members give help and also need help—increases opportunities to give help||Staff members give help and group participants are receivers of help|
|Strength versus pathology: Focus is on participant’s inner strength, not disability||Being receivers of help from staff reinforces disability|
|Non-commodification: Help is freely given||All help given has a cost (e.g., activity staff wages)|
|Social support: Supportive actions in the group create a stress buffer and allow for new interpretations of life||Focus of groups is typically on ‘outside’ events not internal work|
|Ethos: Values are discussed and practiced within the group e.g., giving help to one another||Focus is on events, not necessarily values held by group members|
|The self-help solution: Belief in group members wisdom—not outside help||Group members seek expert help for problems, not seen as experts on their own lives|
|Internality: Residents find support through the group processes||Group members seek outside professional or therapeutic help for support|
Note. Based on Riessman’s (1997)10 self-help principles.
References: Berman-Rossi, T. (2005). The group as a source of hope: Institutionalized older persons. In A. Gitterman & L. Shulman (Eds.), Mutual aid groups, vulnerable and resilient populations and the life cycle (pp. 493-535). New York: Columbia University Press.
Riessman, F. (1965). The “Helper therapy” principle. Social Work, 10(2), 27-32.