SolidarityA Key Component of Recovery is Peer Support. Peer support accepts and respects the perspective and contributions of lived experience – it shifts the balance of power in subtle but significant ways. Peer support is an important and distinct component of mental health and substance abuse services. After reviewing lots of articles, material from other courses and documents about peer support, here is the definition of Peer Support that we think best covers what is important about peer support.

Peer support is a system of giving and receiving help founded on key principles of respect, shared responsibility, and mutual agreement of what is helpful. Peer support is not based on psychiatric models and diagnostic criteria. It is about understanding another’s situation empathically through the shared experience of emotional and psychological pain. When people find affiliation with others they feel are” like” them, they feel a connection. This connection, or affiliation, is a deep, holistic understanding based on mutual experience where people are able to “be” with each other without the constraints of traditional (expert/patient) relationships. Further, as trust in the relationship builds, both people are able to respectfully challenge each other when they find themselves in conflict. This allows members of the peer community to try out new behaviours with one another and move beyond previously held self-concepts built on disability and diagnosis. The Stone Centre refers to this as “mutual empowerment”. (Stiver & Miller, 1998)

Recently the mainstream has begun to recognize the value of peer support; funding for Consumer-led programs and services have increased and there has been more hiring of Peer Support Workers in mainstream service teams. It is important to remember though that peer support is based on mutual equality. When people are paid to provide peer support, the relationship then involves some level of power as it becomes a “service” as opposed to a natural support. Yet to build a culture of recovery, mental health services need to embrace and provide empowered peer support services and employ people with lived experience to work from a recovery-is-really-possilble perspective. There are many different modes of peer support, but one thing is common – having lived experience is a valuable skill that not everyone has, and that makes it even more valuable.

One pillar of the Culture of Recovery education strategy is Like Minds: Peer Support Education. For more detail regarding Like Minds: Peer Support Education and the program manual, contact Kate.