Community Health Workers: Examining the Helper Therapy Principle

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A community approach to the integration of health and social services for low-income pregnant women is being addressed through Community Integrated Service System (CISS) initiatives of the Maternal Child Health Bureau. This particular CISS program model was designed to enable low-income mothers to function in a Community Health Worker (CHW) role providing social support for at-risk pregnant women. Using Riessman's notion of "helper therapy," the model was also developed to enhance the potential for CHWs to gain helper benefits. The purpose of this exploratory study was to describe perceived helper benefits and stressors associated with the CHW role and to examine the usefulness of an instrument developed to assess benefits and stressors. The study findings revealed that the majority of CHWs perceived helper benefits that included positive feelings about self, a sense of belonging, valuable work experience, and access to health information and skills through training or contact with program staff. Stressors such as feeling inadequate to help, however, were associated with the helper role for some CHWs. Preliminary analysis of the Helper's Perception Measure indicated that it may be an effective measure and should be tested with a larger sample of CHWs.

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