Your contemporaries, colleagues, and friends can provide invaluable peer support especially if they have endured a similar or shared experience. Peer support is offered one-on-one or in a group setting. The most obvious benefit of receiving support from friends and colleagues is that the supporter has credibility and is trusted.
It’s important for the person needing support to know that those listening to him or her really get what they are feeling. As a widow, I have lived the experience of losing my best friend and the father of my children and I truly get what that emotional roller coaster feels like for person losing their spouse. In other instances, I may not have experienced the same type of loss, but as a trusted friend, I can listen with empathy and
love and still provide important support.
Individuals sharing their experiences can offer one another ideas and suggestions for coping with a situation or finding solutions to a problem. Peers also inspire one another ~ when people see that another has survived a situation and moved forward in life, it gives them hope and courage to do what they need to do to get better or make changes.
Peer support groups bring together friends and strangers in a safe, nurturing environment to share stories and offer support. Along with building trust and credibility, groups do need to stress the importance of confidentiality and be clear when confidentiality would be broken. An acceptable explanation is, “You can share with your family and friends about what you said or what you felt while in the group. You cannot share what others have said or done. Confidentiality will be broken if a person threatens to harm themselves or others.”
The peer mentor or facilitator should receive training to lead the group. The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury documented in their Identification of Best Practices for Peer Support: White Paper (January 2011) the key components for peer support as:
- Adequate training must be provided to peer supporters so they are able to:
o Identify and be aware of signs of stress
o Know when to reach out to others for assistance
o Facilitate referrals to additional resources
- A program must be able to follow through with individuals to monitor improvement
- Individuals must feel safe to make use of the program
- Strong confidentiality agreements
On a final note, in my opinion, to be an effective peer supporter, the person has to have done their own work so they can truly be present to others. Peer support is a wonderful way to give back and to help others on the journey!
Photo Credit: Heart Hands – (CC Attribution and share-alike 2.0 license) courtesy of Christopher – http://bit.ly/1zBfDwh