Self-Help/Mutual Aid in Germany—A 30 Year Perspective of a Participant Observer

Jürgen Matzat

DOI: 10.2190/SH.5.3.e


The aim of this article is to demonstrate the effects of national traditions, the health system, cultural transitions, and broader political movements on the development of self-help. Germany, where the author has been both observer and activist for over 30 years, is used as an example of self-help in one country. The students' rebellion in the late 1960s provided the historic and cultural ground for the emergence of collectives without professional leadership. The relationship between patients and doctors changed fundamentally; "experts through experience" showed up along side traditional "experts through formal education." From a grassroots movement of spontaneous self-helpers, organizations and institutions were developed. Academic research played a significant supporting role as "neutral witness." Attitudes and behavior of professionals, especially in the medical field, changed slowly, and, today, financial support for self-help is an obligation of Germany's statutory health insurance. Some see this as an "impact factor" of the highest relevance for our society.

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