Relational Social Work and mutual/self-help groups

Maria Luisa Raineri

According to Relational Social Work, mutual/self-help groups are specific coping networks that are founded on the reciprocity principle. Self-help/mutual-aid groups bring into light the experiential knowledge of people in trouble so that it can be useful in improving local communities and social services and in increasing practitioner expertise. Moreover, they represent a type of sustainable social work by reproducing and increasing social capital, as indicated by significant research results. In Relational Social Work, these strengths are considered so valuable that Relational Social Work is designed to «enact» them not only in the groups but also at the case and community levels. This article explains how Relational Social Work has established theoretical principles and practical suggestions — based on the specific characteristics and dynamics of mutual/self-help groups analysed in social work literature — that all social workers, even those who are not working in a self-help organization, can apply. It then highlights the lessons that mutual/self-help groups can offer to the field of social work, and, in parallel, how Relational Social Work’s theoretical framework can provide a better understanding of the unique characteristics of mutual/self-help groups.


Mutual/Self-Help Groups – Relational Social Work – Experiential Knowledge – Relational Guide.