What is Helper Theory?

Mental Health Matters

Introduction

Helper theory or the helper therapy principle was first described by Frank Riessman (1965) in an article published in the journal Social Work. The principle suggests that when an individual (the “helper”) provides assistance to another person, the helper may benefit.

Riessman’s model has inspired subsequent research and practice by scholars, clinicians, and indigenous populations to address a variety of social and health-related issues plaguing individuals and communities around the world.

Refer to Peer Support and Skills and Abilities Required for Peer Support.

Riessman’s Formulation

Riessman’s seminal article explored how non-professionals supported one another in self-help/mutual-aid support groups based on Riessman’s observations of a sample of these groups, as well as his summary of the findings of research in the areas of social work, education, and leadership. This article suggested that although the “use of people with a problem to help other people who have the same problem…

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