ABSTRACT: Peer support workers hold potential to contribute to recovery-oriented practice, aiding recovery for the worker and recipient. Peer support workers potentially offer empathy, role modelling and a unique ‘lived experience’ expertise that can connect strongly with users of mental health services and help shape more relevant, cost-effective services. There may also be real benefits for the peer support worker’s own recovery through increased confidence, feelings of self-worth, improved work skills and employability. As yet, however, there is limited evidence demonstrating the impact of peer support worker programs and little empirical understanding of how different models of peer support aid or inhibit recovery. Further, peer support worker programs have tended to place the impetus to adjust on the peer support worker themselves, with little recognition of the structural and organisational changes required to successfully implement effective peer support worker models.
Peer support work is not just about a relationship between the peer support worker and service user. It is an opportunity for collaborative, participatory models of work within mental health services more broadly. This presentation reports on preliminary findings from a study of Mission Australia’s efforts to introduce peer support within its Orange and Dubbo mental health services, a study undertaken as a collaborative research project with the University of Newcastle. It introduces the organisational challenges for implementing effective peer support work programs and makes recommendations about the workplace policy and practice innovations necessary to enhance this type of program. Further, the presentation reflects on the ways in which peer support might be more clearly articulated within a recovery-oriented practice framework.