Basset, T. and Ryan, P. (2012), "Editorial", The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, Vol. 7 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/jmhtep.2012.55507baa.001
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, Volume 7, Issue 2
When Together, working with the National Survivor User Network and the University of Nottingham published their report “Lived Experience Leading the Way” (Basset et al., 2010), their aim was to promote the development and inclusion of peer support within mental health services across the UK. It was clear that peer support was in its infancy within the UK, but models from elsewhere – the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – had both shown the way and drawn attention to the benefits of peer support to both the giver and receiver. Together concluded their report with a final point about peer support needing a spirit of collaboration and partnership in order to work effectively. This requires cooperation between service user groups, voluntary organisations, service providers in the statutory sector and commissioners of services.
Two years later in 2012, it is possible to take stock of both advances and setbacks as peer support has indeed grown in stature across the mental health field in the UK. In this journal edition, we present papers that review developments, demonstrate progress and also raise important ethical issues.
Bradstreet (2006) working the Scottish Recovery Network has talked about three types of peer support as:
informal/unintentional and naturally occurring;
participation in consumer or peer-run groups/programmes; and
the use of consumers/service users as paid providers of services – formal/intentional.
Here, we have papers that cover all three types. In the first paper, Alison Faulkner and Thurstine Basset examine informal, naturally occurring peer support which is often linked with participation in service user or peer-run groups. They raise important issues about both the independence and ownership of peer support. Service user groups and activists are increasingly concerned that statutory mental health services and the professions have taken something that arose from service users and are adapting it to form part of their repertoire. In such a process the key elements of peer support may be compromised. Something similar happened in the UK in the 1980s, when mental health advocacy suddenly became something that mental health professionals did on behalf of their clients instead of something that service users and survivors did for themselves.
Allen Daniels and his colleagues report on the “Pillars of Peer Support” which has become a powerful body in promoting the role of employed peer support workers across many states in the USA. In all, 25 pillars have been identified as key standards and principles that need to be in place or adhered to for the role of peer support worker to become established within the mental health workforce. Important political battles have had to be fought and won to achieve the position they have reached. There are lessons to be learned in the UK from this important and robust initiative.
There are three papers from Nottingham in the UK. Julie Repper and Emma Watson reflect on lessons learned over a year in which their local NHS Trust recruited, trained and employed peer support workers to work alongside mental health professionals in community mental health teams. Some challenges have had to be faced and overcome, especially since the peer support workers have had to work within the heart of NHS services, but the benefits are enormous. Another paper explores the specific nature of the individual work that peer support workers did with their clients. Emma Watson then reflects on her individual journey as one of these workers and is amazed at the opportunities and freedom to work she has experienced in the role. “The best thing about this job is not having to hide a single scrap of myself”, she says.
David Crepaz-Keay and Eva Cyhlarova review the work of the Mental Health Foundation, working with Bipolar UK, in running self-management courses across Wales, with peer support networks as an integral part of this initiative. This is a major development with over 600 participants being trained.
On a more local level, Claire Ockwell reports on a peer support scheme centred on her organisation CAPITAL, which is a service user led body in West Sussex. CAPITAL employs and supports peer support workers to work with both individuals and in groups on acute inpatient wards. Evaluation of the service has been very positive and further evaluation is planned. There is evidence that the peer support workers are more likely to hang onto their independence when employed by a service user led organisation that operates outside of the NHS.
Peer support has its roots in the informal, and often off-the-cuff, relationships amongst service users and it can flourish and grow in service user led organisations and self-help groups. Attempts to transform it into a specific service that is offered within mainstream mental health services will always be difficult. The mutual aid ethos that is very particular to, and special within, service user led organisations does not readily transfer over to large bureaucratic organisations with their boundaries and processes by which workers have to abide. Nevertheless, as these papers show, this can be achieved, provided an element of independence is always maintained and the importance of lived experience, alongside professional experience, is both accepted and honoured.
Thanks also to Carol Munn-Giddings, Professor, Anglia Ruskin University, for helpful email correspondence on this topic.
Thurstine Basset, Peter Ryan
Basset, T., Faulkner, A., Repper, J. and Stamou, E. (2010), Lived Experience Leading the Way: Peer Support in Mental Health, Together/University of Nottingham/NSUN, London, available at: www.together-uk.org/about-us/who-we-are/peer-support-report
Bradstreet, S. (2006), “Harnessing the “lived experience”: formalising peer support approaches to promote recovery”, The Mental Health Review, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 33–7