Peer support occurs when people provide knowledge, experience, emotional, social or practical help to each other. It commonly refers to an initiative consisting of trained supporters, and can take a number of forms such as peer mentoring, listening, or counseling. Peer Support is also used to refer to initiatives where colleagues, members of self-help organizations and others meet as equals to give each other support on a reciprocal basis.
Peer support is distinct from other forms of social support in that the source of support is a peer, a person who is similar in fundamental ways to the recipient of the support; their relationship is one of equality. A peer is in a position to offer support by virtue of relevant experience: he or she has "been there, done that" and can relate to others who are now in a similar situation. Trained peer support workers such as peer support specialists and peer counselors receive special training and are required to obtain Continuing Education Units, like clinical staff.
- 1 Underlying theory
- 2 In schools and education
- 3 In health
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
The effectiveness of peer support is believed to derive from a variety of psychosocial processes described best by Mark Salzer in 2002: social support, experiential knowledge, social learning theory, social comparison theory and the helper-therapy principle.
- Social support is the existence of positive psychosocial interactions with others with whom there is mutual trust and concern. Positive relationships contribute to positive adjustment and buffer against stressors and adversities by offering (a) emotional support (esteem, attachment, and reassurance), (b) instrumental support (material goods and services), (c) companionship and (d) information support (advice, guidance, and feedback).
- Experiential knowledge is specialized information and perspectives that people obtain from living through a particular experience such as substance abuse, a physical disability, chronic physical or mental illness, or a traumatic event such as combat, a natural disaster, domestic violence or a violent crime, sexual abuse, or imprisonment. Experiential knowledge tends to be unique and pragmatic and when shared contributes to solving problems and improving quality of life.
- Social learning theory postulates that peers, because they have undergone and survived relevant experiences, are more credible role models for others. Interactions with peers who are successfully coping with their experiences or illness are more likely to result in positive behavior change.
- Social comparison means that individuals are more comfortable interacting with others who share common characteristics with themselves, such as a psychiatric illness, in order to establish a sense of normalcy. By interacting with others who are perceived to be better than them, peers are given a sense of optimism and something to strive toward.
- The helper-therapy principle proposes that there are four significant benefits to those who provide peer support: (a) increased sense of interpersonal competence as a result of making an impact on another person's life; (b) development of a sense of equality in giving and taking between himself or herself and others; (c) helper gains new personally-relevant knowledge while helping; and (d) the helper receives social approval from the person they help, and others.
In schools and education
Peer mentoring takes place in learning environments such as schools, usually between an older more experienced student and a new student. Peer mentors appear mainly in secondary schools where students moving up from primary schools may need assistance in settling into the whole new schedule and lifestyle of secondary school life. Peer mentoring is also used in the workplace as a means of orienting new employees. New employees who are paired with a peer mentor are twice as likely to remain in their job than those who do not receive mentorship.
This form of peer support is widely used within schools. Peer supporters are trained, normally from within schools or universities, or sometimes by outside organizations, such as Childline's CHIPS (Childline In Partnership With Schools) program, to be "active listeners". Within schools, peer supporters are normally available at break or lunch times.
Peer helper in sports
A peer helper in sports works with young adults in sports such as football, soccer, track, volleyball, baseball, cheerleading, swimming, and basketball. They may provide help with game tactics (e.g. keeping your eye on the ball), emotional support, training support, and social support.
In mental health
Peer support can occur within, outside or around traditional mental health services and programs, between two people or in groups. Peer support is a key concept in the recovery approach and in consumer-operated services programs. Consumers/clients of mental health programs have also formed non-profit self-help organizations, and serve to support each other and to challenge associated stigma and discrimination. The role of peer workers in mental health services was the subject of a conference in London in April 2012, jointly organised by the Centre for Mental Health and the NHS Confederation. Research has shown that peer-run self-help groups yield improvement in psychiatric symptoms resulting in decreased hospitalization, larger social support networks and enhanced self-esteem and social functioning.
Organizations that offer peer support services for people with mental health problems include:
- Fountain House
- Emotions Anonymous
- the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
- Wildflowers' Movement
- Recovery International
- On Our Own of Montgomery County
- The Mental Health Rights Coalition - Hamilton, ON, Canada
Twelve-step programs for overcoming substance misuse and other addiction recovery groups are often based on peer support. Since the 1930s Alcoholics Anonymous has promoted peer support between new members and their sponsors: "The process of sponsorship is this: an alcoholic who has made some progress in the recovery program shares that experience on a continuous, individual basis with another alcoholic who is attempting to attain or maintain sobriety through AA." Other addiction recovery programs rely on peer support without following the twelve-step model.
For anxiety and depression
In Canada, the LEAF (Living Effectively with Anxiety and Fear) Program is a peer-led support group for cognitive-behavioral therapy of persons with mild to moderate panic disorders.
In a 2011 meta-analysis of seven randomized trials that compared a peer support intervention to group cognitive-behavioral therapy in patients suffering from depression, peer support interventions were found to improve depression symptoms more than usual care alone and results may be comparable to those of group cognitive behavioral therapy. These findings suggest that peer support interventions have the potential to be effective components of depression care, and they support the inclusion of peer support in recovery-oriented mental health treatment.
Several studies have shown that peer support reduces fear during stressful situations such as combat and domestic violence and may mitigate Posttraumatic stress disorder. The 1982 Vietnam-Era Veterans Adjustment Survey showed that PTSD was highest in those men and women who lacked positive social support from family, friends, and society in general.
In chronic illness
Peer support has been beneficial for many people living with diabetes. Diabetes encompasses all aspects of people's lives, often for decades. Support from peers can offer emotional, social, and practical assistance that helps people do the things they need to do to stay healthy. Peer support groups for diabetics complement and enhance other health care services.
For first responders
Peer support programs have also been implemented to address stress and psychological trauma among law-enforcement personnel and firefighters. Peer support is an important component of the critical incident stress management program used to alleviate stress and trauma among disaster first responders.
For people with disabilities
Peer support is considered to be a key component of the independent living movement and has been widely used by organizations that work with people with disabilities, including the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) and Survivor Corps. Since 1998 the ACA has operated a National Peer Network for survivors of limb loss. The Blinded Veterans Association has recently launched Operation Peer Support (OPS), a program designed to support men and women returning to the US blinded or experiencing significant visual impairment in connection with their military service. Peer support has also benefited survivors of traumatic brain injury and their families. There is also FacingDisability for Families Facing Spinal Cord Injuries , which has a peer counseling program in addition to 1,000 videos drawn from interviews of people with spinal cord injuries, their families, caregivers and experts.
For survivors of trauma
Peer support has been used to help survivors of trauma, such as refugees, cope with stress and deal with difficult living conditions. Peer support is integral to the services provided by the National Center for Trauma-Informed Care. Other programs have been designed for female victims of domestic violence and for women in prison.
Survivor Corps defines peer support for trauma survivors as "Encouragement and assistance provided by a colleague who has overcome similar difficulties to engender self-confidence and autonomy and to enable the survivor to make his or her own decisions and implement them." Peer support is a fundamental strategy in the rehabilitation of landmine survivors in Afghanistan, Bosnia, El Salvador and Vietnam. A study of 470 amputee survivors of war-related violence in six countries showed that nearly one hundred percent said they had benefited from peer support.
A peer support program operated by the Centre d’Encadrement et de Développement des Anciens Combattants in Burundi with support from the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery and Action on Armed Violence has assisted survivors of war-related violence, including women with disabilities, and female ex-combatants since 2010. A similar program in Rwanda works with survivors of the Rwandan genocide. Peer support has been recommended as a fundamental part of victim assistance programs for survivors of war-related violence.
A 1984 study on the impact of peer support and support groups for victims of domestic violence showed that 146 battered women found women's peer support groups the most helpful source of a range of available treatments. The women in these groups appeared to give direct advice and to act as role models. A 1986 study on 70 adolescent mothers considered to be at risk for domestic violence showed that peer support improved cognitive problem-solving skills, self-reinforcement, and parenting competence.
For veterans and their families
Several programs exist that provide peer support for military veterans in the US and Canada. In 2010 the Military Women to Women Peer Support Group was established in Helena, MT.
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) provides peer support, crisis care, casualty casework assistance, and grief and trauma resources for families of members of the US military. Operation Peer Support (OPS) is a program for US military veterans who were blinded or have significant visual impairment.
In January 2013 Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, sponsored an amendment of the National Defense Authorization Act (S.3254) that would require peer counseling as part of a comprehensive suicide prevention program for US veterans.
- Peer support specialist
- Lay community counsellor
- Peer education
- Peer mentoring
- Person centered planning
- Self-help groups for mental health
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- Michelle Heisler, "Building Peer Support Programs to Manage Chronic Disease: Seven Models for Success", California Healthcare Foundation, December 2006.
- Peer Support Network, an internet-based peer support service for newly diagnosed cancer patients, cancer survivors and their caregivers.
- Peer Adherence Support Manual, A Manual for Program Managers and Supervisors of Peer Workers; Harlem Adherence to Treatment Study, Harlem Hospital Peer Support for HIV Treatment Adherence, 2003.
- AIDS Information Center, Uganda
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- BCNS's Breast Cancer Survivor Match Program
- Rachelle Katz, Daniel I. Cohen and Ronnie M. Hirsh, Cop to Cop: A Peer Support Training Manual for the Law Enforcement Officer, Peer Support Press; 2nd edition, January 1, 2000. ISBN 978-0-9669496-3-6
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- Project ABLE's Trauma Survivor Peer Support Project in Oregon
- Josi Salem-Pickartz, 2008: Strengthening community mental health resources by training refugees as peer counsellors – a manual for trainers, Intervention, The War Trauma Foundation and the Al Himaya Foundation for Trauma Recovery, Growth and Resilience.
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- "Pandora's Aquarium". pandys.org. 2011. Retrieved August 29, 2011.
- Vets4Vets, a non-partisan organization dedicated to helping Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans to heal from the psychological injuries of war through the use of peer support.
- Statewide Advocacy for Veterans' Empowerment (SAVE)
- Resnick, Sandra Gail; Rosenheck, Robert A: "Integrating peer-provided services: a quasi-experimental study of recovery orientation, confidence, and empowerment," Psychiatric Services, vol. 59, no. 11, pp. 1307-1314, November 2008.
- The Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) Program for Canadian Veterans. See also "Evaluation of the OSISS Peer Support Network," Dept. of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada, January 2005.
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- "MILITARY SUICIDE: Murray Effort to Create Standardized Suicide Prevention Program Signed into Law by President Obama."