What is a "Peer"?
The Merrian-Webster Dictionary defines Peer as "a person who belongs to the same age group or social group as someone else". In behavioral health it is generally used to refer to someone who shares the experience of living with a behavioral health issue with another.
What is Peer Support?
"Peer support is the process of giving and receiving encouragement and assistance to achieve long-term recovery. Peers offer emotional support, share knowledge, teach skills, provide practical assistance, and connect people with resources, opportunities, communities of support, and other people." Mead, S. (2003); Solomon, P. (2004).
"A peer provider (e.g. certified peer specialist, peer support specialist, recovery coach) is a person who uses his or her lived experience of recovery from mental illness and/or addiction, plus skills learned in formal training, to deliver services in behavioral health settings to promote mind-body recovery and resiliency." SAMHSA-HSRA Center for Integrated Solutions, (2014)
Principle Activities of Peer Support Workers
While the role of a peer support worker varies based on the setting and its unique needs, peer specialists
typically engage in the following activities:
Provide Support and Advocacy
Peer specialists work with peers to connect them to resources in the community. They coach their peers around how to independently identify needs and access resources. In addition, peer specialists advocate for their peers in treatment settings and within the community.
Role Model Recovery
Peer specialists have a wealth of experience navigating their own recovery journeys. By sharing their stories and modeling healthy, effective decision-making in peer relationships, they can inspire others to do the same.
Facilitate Positive Change
The spirit of recovery and resilience is grounded in hope and optimism.
As such, peer specialists work to motivate their peers through positive means, highlighting strengths and
resources. They can facilitate change through goal setting, education, and skills building.
Why focus on Peer Support Programs?
As organizations change their focus to recovery and resiliency, there is a corresponding shift towards the engagement of individuals as informed and decisive directors in their lives. For example, within the healthcare system, the more “activated” a person is, the better able they are to manage their conditions. This can lead to better health, a higher quality of life, and more satisfaction with their care. This approach, often called “self-management,” recognizes an individual’s ability to choose behaviors that support their health and well-being. This self-management approach has been successfully implemented in the treatment of a variety of chronic physical health conditions, behavioral health conditions, co-morbid medical conditions among individuals with behavioral health conditions, as well as with specific populations including justice involved individuals and the military.
Research reveals positive effects of these programs for both program participants and peer support providers. Furthermore, peer specialists are equally as effective as other healthcare providers at stabilizing clients and perhaps more effective at quickly engaging clients who are most resistant and/or alienated from the healthcare system.
A literature review found that peer specialists are uniquely qualified to enhance several aspects of recovery including hope, empowerment, self-esteem, self-efficacy, social inclusion, and engagement. They also reduce internalized stigma and promote empowerment and inclusion through the development of personal identity with peers. As such, this has led to the classification of peer support as an evidence-based intervention, as well as inclusion of peer support in various treatment settings both nationally and internationally.
For more information on peer-based recovery support services in healthcare: CLICK HERE
Peer Based Recovery Support
Benefits of Peer Support
Increased engagement and activation in treatment
Increased empowerment and hope
Increased satisfaction with and quality of life
Reduced use of inpatient services
Increased social functioning
Increased community engagement