We have learned about valuing our own lived experience and reflecting on what recovery means for us and how it shapes the way we view our experiences.
Role modelling and hope
A key role for peer supporters is to role model recovery and hope within the peer support relationship. We show that it is possible to reclaim your life and live a life of hope and potential through our attitudes, interactions, behaviours and use of language.
The term ‘role model’ was first coined by the American sociologist Robert K Merton to describe observations he made about medical students. These ideas were later developed by psychologists, most notably Albert Bandura, who developed his ‘Social Learning Theory’.
Bandura argued that people learn through observation of other people’s behaviour and attitudes, and that this is a key part of what is known as ‘socialisation’ — the process by which we become aware of society and relationships within it. Behaviour is reinforced through a process of rewards and punishments. This is to ensure what is deemed as acceptable behaviour is reinforced while negative behaviours are reduced.
There are many people that we might consider to be role models as we progress though life — from parents and friends to colleagues and educators. The extent to which people are aware that they are acting as role models is perhaps less clear, but the idea of developing skills and abilities to support people in a process of modelling has been widely developed in a range of settings.
Examples of this include mentoring programmes in schools where older students support younger students, or in work settings where more experienced employees support new staff.
The use of role modelling to support recovery has also gained credence, with recommendations to service providers to ‘make role models more visible.’ (Slade M, 2009). Inspiring peers like Pat Deegan (www.patdeegan.com) consider the role of sharing experiences and stories as one means of sharing hope and promoting recovery.
“People in recovery also speak of the importance of having a person in recovery as a mentor or role model as they go through their journey. Role models help people know what recovery looks like and give them ideas about what to hope for.” (Davidson, L. et al, 2009)
How and when to use your own experiences
In the peer support relationship, using and drawing on our personal recovery experiences is a powerful tool in communicating hope and creating connections with others. Sharing our recovery experiences provides us with the opportunity to practice what we have learned about how role modelling can communicate possibility and potential.
As peer supporters we will have many opportunities to talk and share with people. How we share our experiences will be dependent on who we are speaking with and the purpose of the discussion. At all times our discussion and the sharing of experiences should be in keeping with key aspects of the peer support relationship; that it is:
As a peer supporter, consider the initial connection you make when you met someone for the first time. For example you have just introduced yourself to Sylvia. She’s heard about peer support but doesn’t know much about it. She asks you if you’ve also been a client in the mental health system.