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Peer and Professional Roles in Peer Support

Community Health Individual Group

A committed peer support group member has a responsibility to the group and to the peer support movement to promote the development of effective groups and effective relationships with professionals. In relationships with professionals, peers work to:

  • Understand and explain the benefits and limitations of peer support groups.

  • Promote the value of peer support group participation using specific examples.

  • Describe the benefit of feeling empowered that often arises through peer support group participation.

  • Engage in programs and group activities to help group members, both new and old, learn more about peer support and the value of professionals in peer support.

  • Understand and explore the limits of professionals and professional services.

  • Clarify group goals so that group members are clear about the group’s role in the community and the group’s links with professionals.

  • Work with the peer support group to set guidelines for the role of the professional within the group.

  • Provide clear requests to professionals when requesting support or information.

  • Promote professionals as resources rather than experts.

  • Respect the time and other constraints professionals may have in terms of when and how they can help the group.

  • Build relationships based on mutual trust and respect.

  • Encourage members and professionals to understand and respect the differences between the values of experiential knowledge and the value of specialized or academic knowledge.

  • With both professionals and members, discuss strategies for dealing with situations where peer supporters feel inadequate, intimidated or put down. Provide members with the opportunity to develop effective listening and assertive expressing skills.

  • If a professional does not understand or agree with the peer support approach, first seek to find out why and then present the peer perspective.

  • Encourage a team approach to coordinating treatment and services, including the individual with the need, their family, friends, peer support groups and professionals.

  • Develop a professional resource list for your group and learn what different information and skills these professionals can offer.

  • Establish connections with other peer support groups, professionals outside the group’s “area of concern” and with other related groups in your community.

  • Encourage the group to become a resource in its own right. Promote peer support as one of many different resources available in your community.

  • Develop a community resource of peer support groups and information or contact your local or regional peer support organization for information and support.

Professionals who support the development of peer support groups and promote the peer support movement have a responsibility first and foremost to understand peer support. Professionals must work with members and potential group members to define a relationship that promotes the peer support principle of mutual aid. Ideally, the relationship with professionals is one where there is a mutually beneficial exchange of information.

In relationships with peers, professionals work to:

  • Learn about the peer support movement and its role in the development and provision of balanced health and community care.

  • Promote the value of peer support group participation.

  • Understand the limitations and the benefits of peer support groups.

  • Value a peer support group’s knowledge as experiential and valid, and different from specialized knowledge available through professionals.

  • Find out about the peer support groups available in the area and invite them to provide you with information on their group goals, meeting schedules and other relevant information.

  • Join the local self-help resource, networking or community services association and ask them to include you on their mailing list.

  • Recognize that professionals are limited in their ability to meet all the needs of all of their clients and that peer support groups are a resource to bridge that gap.

  • Participate in groups as a guest speaker, consultant or advisor.

  • Invite peer support group members to speak to colleagues about peer support.

  • Lend credibility to peer support groups by sitting on advisory committees or endorsing their programs.

  • Offer organizational assistance and encouragement as groups develop, including resources such as a meeting space, posting information and access to specialized knowledge through journal articles etc.

  • Act as a catalyst for communication between professionals, agencies, group members, and organizers. Encourage group networks by providing linkages between groups.

  • Explore potential partnerships and coalitions among peer support groups and professionals to influence health policy development in areas of common interest.

  • Share information about current research and treatment updates.

  • Request information from group members to aid in research.

  • Propose to clients the idea of coming together to start a group.

  • Contact people in the community to see who may provide other resources.