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Self-Help Movements

Although Alcoholics Anonymous, Melbourne's first self-help group, began in the 1940s, it was in the 1970s and 1980s that the movement, supported by the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) and the Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL), experienced its most rapid growth. Through the Action Resource Centre for Low Income Families (1977) and the Older Person's Action Centre (1983) the BSL encouraged people living in poverty to discover their own voice, providing a model that other groups would follow. In the late 1970s the VCOSS-sponsored forum 'We Have the Strength' attracted over 130 participants and led to the publication of the first edition of the Directory of self help groups. The Collective of Self Help Groups (COSHG), formed in July 1980 following the 'Self Help in the 80s' conference, grew rapidly from a core of 20 groups to over 400. It was involved in the establishment of Ross House in 1987 and became the spearhead of the Victorian self-help movement.

Whereas in the USA self-help groups focused on the alleviation of poverty, many Victorian groups stressed participation, rights and empowerment for consumers of health, disability and welfare services controlled by government and philanthropic organisations. As the concept of self-help became more fully accepted, fewer groups identified with the broader movement and many have become established adjuncts to professional services. Though funding was withdrawn by the State Government from 1992 to 2002, COSHG has continued to produce the directory biannually (now approaching 800 entries) and provides information and training to groups across the State and to individuals wanting to contact or start self-help groups.

Shurlee Swain