home page section one

Why Peer Groups Work

Back in 1935, two men discovered that by helping each other, they could stop drinking the alcohol that was killing them. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was born, beginning what we call self-help peer support groups today.

Interestingly, one of them was a doctor, but could not solve his own problem. It was not until he met a fellow sufferer, that he could stop. The other man had been written off by every hospital he had ever been admitted to.

It took a while before both men figured out why they were staying sober. As they spoke with other hopeless alcoholics, they found some of them stayed sober too. So what was happening? Why was what they were doing (talking) working, when all other treatments had failed?

Eventually they came to realise it was the fact that both of them had the same problem and were therefore prepared to trust each other and help each other. They later called it “Identification”. When two people can identify with each other, they will listen and take notice, unlike when being told to do something by an “expert”.

Of course there is more to staying sober than talking. You have to be prepared to follow a plan and make major changes in how you think and behave. To ensure everyone in the group was working from the same page, they created 12 steps for members to follow.

Today, there are 12-step groups for just about every problem you can think of and can be found all over the world. But 12-step groups are not appealing to everyone, especially when they venture into religious or spiritual territory.

Nowadays there are other ways to treat mental health issues, such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), among others. STRIVE uses both of these from text books and videos. But the underlying reason the group works is still “Identification”.

Medical professionals and counsellors have their place – but not in a peer group. Another term that has been developed is “Lived Experience”. This simply means “Been-there-done-that”. When you combine identification with lived experience, you have a group of people that is in a unique position to help each member in a way no professional help can.

Peers helping peers is still the most effective way to provide ongoing support, once formal treatment has been completed. It is also the best way for people to “test the water” before even seeking professional help.