* Are you a professional wanting to develop more skills in line with your values of egalitarian, collaborative and empowering social services/community development?


* Have you been looking for an opportunity to deepen your analysis and self-knowledge for working with marginalized communities?


* Would you like to learn more about the dynamics and qualities of the movements that lobby for client “voice” and “ownership” – that changed the way we teach and practice social work, nursing and other “helping” professions?


If your answer to any of those questions is “yes”, you might want to consider this George Brown College course for fall 2006


Working with

Self-Help & Peer Support




See below for further details.

Click Here to go to George Brown College Continuing Education and register.






Working with Self-Help and Peer Support Initiatives:




Self-help/mutual aid/peer support methodologies have been instrumental in enabling marginalized clients and communities to work wonders. Whether engaging youth in issues of sexual health, energizing the women's, LGBTQ, and anti-racist moments, or empowering people to take control of their health, self-help and peer support have succeeded in building self-esteem, trust and problem-solving skills amongst those with similar issues or concerns.


Decades ago, self-help groups were often positioned in conflict with professionals because they challenged traditional top-down, prescriptive and “charity” approaches. Now that wisdom from self-help movements has “trickled up” into academe, more professionals are trained to embrace relationships with self-help co-operatively, and to integrate peer support methodologies for more effective community organizing and service.


Following is a description of the course approach, as well as a preview of the course content and readings.




This course is an opportunity to:


          Understand self-help and peer support approaches: their history, qualities, strengths and limitations. Meet leaders from diverse groups and share your own experience with groups.  


          Explore your role as a professional: whether working alongside and with self-help groups, or integrating their strategies in your work through peer support & peer education models, experiential learning/storytelling approaches and more.   


          Consider challenging issues: like shared leadership, accountability, and sustainability.


          Broaden your awareness of local self-help groups, organizations who apply peer support programming, and Canadian writers/researchers in the field.


This course will be taught using anti-oppression frameworks and a combination of dynamic readings, speakers, experiential exercises and group discussion. Throughout the course, weekly in-class time will be allocated to an experiential “support group” in order to provide more opportunity for student-directed learning as well as a shared experience for skills development and insights about group facilitation and other process skills.




Here are the weekly topics we will cover, with a brief description of each:


1.          Introduction: Meet your fellow learners and review the course plan expectations.


2.          Frameworks for Exploring Self-Help and Peer Support: Explore the diversity of self-help groups and compare three typologies for differentiating types of groups and peer support programs.


3.          Understanding Self-Help: Guest speakers will share their experiences with groups. Students will plan for and begin in-class support group sessions.


4.          Exploring the Role of the Professional: Through personal experience and case studies examine the tensions and insights of your position in relation to self-help group members and peer support volunteers.


5.       One-to-One Peer Support: Together discuss tensions and insights from readings in local examples of one-to-one peer support. Learn about resources for future work.


6.          Volunteer Management and Self-Help/Peer Support: Strengthen your capacity to work with self-help/peer support models by learning more about sound volunteer management.


7.          Working for the Community Using Self-Help/Peer Support Approaches: Discuss examples of health education, popular theatre, and youth empowerment that integrate self-help/peer support strategies. Explore issues and resources.


8.          Paraprofessionals: Hear from guest speakers and consider issues regarding the “bridging” of the informal peer support and professional worlds.


9.          Accountability: Consider the multiple problematics of “institutionalizing” groups and models whose quality is community-based and informal. Discuss the inevitable liability concerns that arise when we work as professionals in formal organization. Learn about participatory action research models, which originated from self-help movements.



10.          Linking with Community Resources: Create a collective map of organizational and online resources to assist you with your future work. 


11.          Integrating the Learning Experience: Debrief and evaluate in-class support group experience. Review and integrate course learnings. Write reflections for sharing at closure session.


12.             Closure: Completing the in-class group and learning experience.




Theory on Self-Help/Peer Support:

·        Jennifer Poole on health promotion using self-help/mutual aid

·        Judy Wilson on guidelines for professionals working with self-help groups

·        Thomasina Borkman on comparing self-help and professional groups

·        Cindy-Lee Dennis on peer support in a healthcare context

·        Geoff Nelson on participatory action research with self-help initiatives


Descriptions of groups and peer programs:

·        Consumer Survivor initiatives in London, Hamilton and Whitby

·        The Métis Women’s Circle

·        Kinex Teen Facilitators Program in B.C.

·        Peer Nutritionists through Region of Waterloo Public Health

·        Examples of peer strategies for Maternal/Infant/Family Health in Ontario

·        Toronto Harm Reduction Task Force

·        Linda Kurtz on international 12 step groups

·        Peer sexual health education at Planned Parenthood


Professionals Integrating Self-Help/Peer Support Strategies:

·        Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed techniques

·        Jennifer Poole et.al. on stroke prevention with self-help


Issues of Power and Accountability:

·        Audrey Gartner on "Professionals and self-help: the uses of creative tension”

·        Renuka Sookanan on “The Problematic of Partnerships and Funding for Immigrant Women’s Communities”

·        James Taylor on “The Poverty of ‘Partnerships’”


How-to Resources:

·        Ontario Health Promotion E-Bulletin “Frameworks & Skills for keeping groups on track”

·        Self-Help Resource Centre Factsheets: “Self-Help 101”, “Confidentiality in Groups”, and “Integrating Self-Help Strategies”

·        Readings on Volunteer Management




Gillian Kranias (M.E.S.) has worked for 20 years as an adult educator and facilitator of diverse community-based initiatives.


Spencer Brennan (B.A.E.A.) has worked as an addiction therapist, life skills coach and volunteer manager over the past 15 years.


Both are presently Co-Coordinators of the Ontario Self-Help Network, a program which supports the development of local and regional self-help/mutual aid initiatives by providing consultation, networking support, training workshops and resource materials.




Click Here to go to George Brown College Continuing Education and register.