Peer supporters identify challenges and solutions for working in mental health

Researcher: Vivien Kemp, Reported May 2012 in

A recent study with peer support workers in Western Australia identified the challenges and solutions
– from a peer support perspective – of being employed in mental health services.

A focus group of seven peer supporters (out of the 25 identified) was conducted to understand
the challenges and solutions to providing paid peer support to consumers. The group was asked
two questions, “What challenges have you encountered in the course of your work as a peer
support worker?” and “How did you deal with the challenges you faced?” Five challenges were then prioritized.

The biggest concern for peer support workers was the lack of clarity around their role which
resulted in problems with setting boundaries – both with fellow staffers and consumers, and
what to expect from others when returning to work after a mental health leave. The solution
for many of the challenges was to educate staff, particularly management, on the value of
peer support. A suggestion was to accredit peer support and to provide a manual or handbook
to educate staff.

Other challenges included:
o Managers’ conflicting expectations of work demand and time allocation (especially given
the fact that peer support workers only worked part-time),
o When and how peer workers should disclose their own mental illness to consumers (so as not
to blur the line between supporter and friend)
o Managing supervisory relationships
o Peer Support Workers felt they were inadequately supported to do their job
In order for peer workers to feel included and treated like equals, the authors felt that cultural
change is required to develop recovery-oriented work environments. A description of all worker roles,
including those for peer support, was also identified as a mechanism for helping peer support workers
feel less excluded and more accepted as equals by their co-workers.


2 responses to “Peer supporters identify challenges and solutions for working in mental health”

  1. Isabella Cole Avatar
    Isabella Cole

    Organisations should be working to legislation and aligning their service with the standards that need to be factored into peerwork. How can peerworkers have an understanding of the responsibilities if there is no policy or framework that has been developed in order to support the workplace for the inclusion of peer workers? Furthermore, I wonder how many service providers actually provide supervision to peerworkers by that of a line manager? I think supervision should be provided by another tier of management, or external supervision should occur. When considering tenets of civil law isn’t duty of care beyond fear of discrimination and reprisal? I wonder how line-management can manage boundaries between staff when privy to information both professional and personal? Risks to worker safety are compromised even further if standards to protect peer workers doesn’t exist. It makes peer workers feel awkward and unsure and gives further power to those who are in positions to recognise ethical shifts need to occur to provide workplace cohesion and legitimacy within the context of peerwork. Peerworkers are changing the face of how service delivery is imparted. Managers maintain status quo – leaders are the catalyst for change. How can this happen when imbalance of power can lead to exploitation or harm if supervisors handle supervision inappropriately (Reamer, 2009).


  2. Peer Workers themselves should be consulted from the onset. Mental Health in Australia and all those involved (including consumer groups and services) needsto acknowledge and accept this powerful new voice as the ‘new’ voice. Particularly with the new flavor of the month: co-production. Peer workers are more than just being ex/consumers.


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