The demand for Peer Support Services is increasing across our behavioral health system. As the need for this evidence based practice increases, more people than ever want to learn what Peer Support is, and why it is so impactful.
What is Peer Support?
Let’s start our exploration into peer support by watching a video from the Peer Recovery Center of Excellence. This video gives an overview of what peer support can look like and how it can support the recovery journeys for people receiving services.
As explained in the video, peer support “occurs when people with shared lived experience connect with each other. The bond that results can create mutual empathetic experiences that foster growth and recovery.”
Peer support can be informal (like friends going to coffee) or formal (with a professional peer supporter providing a service to someone else). But one thing that connects people receiving peer support, no matter the format, is that both people have shared lived experience. Lived experience is just as expansive as peer support, relating to things like the experience of raising children, being a member of a marginalized community, and much more. In behavioral health, we often talk about our lived experience of experiencing mental health or substance use challenges. Peer supporters openly share their lived experience of challenge and recovery with others to imbue hope, deepen connection, and explore what is meaningful to others.
Peer Support is non-clinical, meaning that peer supporters do not provide therapy, make diagnoses, administer medication, or conduct clinical assessments. Instead, peer supporters engage in support that is:
- Recovery-oriented (meaning that peer support focuses on what people want and need to achieve a meaningful life, harnessing people’s strengths and recognizing there are multiple pathways of recovery);
- Person-centered (meaning that peer support is driven by goals, needs, and hopes of the person receiving services, not by the peer supporter or anyone else);
- Voluntary (meaning that peer support services are always contingent upon the choice of the person receiving services);
- Relationship-focused (meaning that peer support is a relationship that prioritizes trust, empathy, respect, collaboration, and mutuality above all else); and
- Trauma-informed (meaning that peer support focuses on people’s strengths and promotes a relationship built on safety and empowerment, as defined by the person receiving support).
These characteristics of peer support are the core principles of peer support, which provide guidance and direction for how peer supporters engage in their work.
Does Peer Support work?
Because peer support focuses on relationship, not outcomes, people sometimes ask whether peer support actually works. In other words, is peer support effective? And the answer is: yes! Evidence shows that peer support has real impacts on the lives of people who receive peer support services. For example, people who receive peer support experience:
- Increased self-esteem and confidence
- Increased sense of control and ability to bring about changes in their lives
- Raised empowerment scores
- Increased sense that treatment is responsive and inclusive of needs
- Increased sense of hope and inspiration
- Increased empathy and acceptance (camaraderie)
- Increased engagement in self-care and wellness
- Increased social support and social functioning
- Reduced hospital admission rates and longer community tenure
- Decreased substance use and depression
- Decreased criminal justice involvement