Peer Support has over the past few years gained increasing credibility as a complimentary pathway to enable mental health consumers to undertake their recovery journeys of choice.
In many respects, because all and sundry has jumped onto the peer support bandwagon, the risks of genuine peer support be co-opted into a service provider model of service provision is high. Primarily because people either do not understand or choose to ignore the core concepts of peer support and think that anything goes.
So what are some of the core concepts to peer support?
- A peer is a person of equal standing; therefore in peer support, the peer is a person who has the lived experience of mental illness or a person who has the lived experience of caring for a person with lived experience of mental illness. Well that’s clearly obvious you say, so why mention it? Basically because in some areas this is being ignored and providers think they can either provide peer support, speak on behalf of peers and/or think they can undertake genuine peer supervision with peer support workers.
- Peer support is all about the equal relationship. Therefore if providers and/or peer support workers really think about this, writing in consumers clinical files goes directly against this equal relationship. Some organisations even consider that peer support workers are the ‘role models’ for consumers who access their services. What they don’t appear to understand is the moment they set up that the peer support worker is the ‘role model’ they have unbalanced the equal relationship. Why? Because with their best intentions they are non-verbally saying the peer support worker is more experienced in the consumers’ recovery journey; the peer support worker is more expert; and by the way if you do what I do then you will indeed recover! Therefore the peer support worker is non-verbally approaching the peer support role and the peer relationship from a totally different and very subtle paradigm. (For a consumer who to view the peer support worker as a role model is an unintended side benefit rather than one of the main aims or focus of the peer support role. Many would argue otherwise, however, I would ask the question, how can a peer support maintain the equality of the relationship at all times, if they are expected to be a ‘role model’ for the consumers they are providing peer support to? The two simply cannot co-exist as both the consumer and the peer support worker are subtly being set up that the peer support worker is more experienced and more of an expert in recovery than the consumer who is receiving the peer support service.
- Recovery is a core focus of peer support, and must at all times be focused on the consumer and what they believe and want their recovery journeys to be. As a consumer term, recovery has been literally hijacked by service providers, twisted around and then fed back to the consumer movement as this is what recovery is all about!!! Sadly peer support appears to be experiencing the safe fate. Sometimes to such a degree that providers consider if a consumer has not reached x,y and z then clearly they haven’t recovered!!! Clinicalising recovery has done so much damage it’s incomprehensible all because providers have decided what they think recovery really should look like and because of their worldview, simply couldn’t computer the genuine and real nuances of the core aspects of recovery as it is a consumer term, rather than a provider term.
- Hope is clearly important, and this is where peer support workers can and do their best work in the equality and mutuality of the peer support relationship. In many respects because the enabling of hope is such an integral part of peer support, this is where the unintended side benefit of the consumer viewing the peer support worker as a role model.
I could go on however I will leave it at this 4 core aspects of peer support. I guess what I would seriously recommend is that people pause for breath and undertake a SWOT analysis of how they want peer support to be delivered, the opportunities and the threats to delivering genuine peer support.
Here at Peers @ EDP Every Day People Communications we have established a dedicated social bookmarking website so people can submit links to articles, videos, research and the like to share with all in order to provide great information for people who are either planning or aspire to undertake the peer support role and/or deliver a peer support service. Click Here for more information.
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