In the following we would like to expand upon the term “self-help group” by avoiding the sometimes problematic term “self-help” itself and instead referring to the groups as “empowerment” or “peer” groups.
Knowledge from the field of group psychology tells us that in groups, impacts can often develop which seldom arise in one-to-one sessions: in particular, groups impart hope and counteract feelings of isolation because of the facilitated encounters with like-minded people who have had similar experiences or overcome similar problems. Hearing about the other members’ solutions can be very encouraging.
Furthermore, it can be a positive experience for an affected woman to have the opportunity to be of assistance or support to another woman, or simply to be there to listen to her, especially if in the present moment she is in more difficulties. The woman being helped gains strength, but the helper gains an experience of self-efficacy which is a valuable aid to realising what powers and strength she has to help herself cope with her own difficult situations and challenges.
The safety of a group is also a place where acceptance and solidarity can be expressed and members can experience the relief that comes with sharing their troubles. In the context of refugees and internally displaced people, it is a new concept to set up these empowering peer groups with a Stress- and Trauma-sensitive Approach. But they are urgently needed.
Our concept of “empowerment groups” deliberately goes further than classic “self-help” groups by defining specific criteria to ensure the effect is truly empowering: the members of the group are “empowered ” if their participation enhances their ability to act in and successfully cope with severe stress – both the stress due to their past traumatic experience and their current stress. This implies increasing their psychological and social health, which is in turn necessary if they are to build up new hopes and opportunities for the future. The concept further includes empowering women to offer their support to others in the role of trainer or “experts by experience”.
Our core strategy for empowerment groups is as follows: refugee women in comparable life situations meet together in a safe space, characterised by mutual respect and confidentiality. Here they can share their experiences, gain new experiences of joy, well-being and expertise, or learn new skills.
In an empowerment group they benefit from mutual support and acknowledgment of what they have been through; by being together in a group, they experience support, relief, encouragement and connection. The Stress- and Trauma-sensitive Approach (STA) developed by medica mondiale includes principles that are put into practice in groups such as these. They include guidance on the general conditions necessary for this type of group and the specific methodology appropriate for the group’s meetings.
Source: Handout: Peer-to-Peer – geflüchtete Frauen durch Gruppenangebote stärken, medica mondiale 2017 [Peer-to-peer – empowering refugee women by offering participation in groups]