Course Content
This session will introduce students to the course and through the use of exercises promote general discussion encouraging the students to begin to get to know each other. The session will cover confidentiality, participation, commitment and a general overview of the course. 
What is Recovery?
The aim of this session is to explore the development of the recovery approach in mental health and to examine key concepts in recovery and a range of factors that support recovery.
Personal Recovery
The aim of this session is to explore personal experience of mental health problems and recovery and consider how the key concepts and factors supporting recovery (covered in session 2) have impacted on your own story of recovery.
What is Peer Support?
Now that we have been introduced to recovery characteristics and developed an understanding of the things that can help and hinder that process, we are going to consider the role the role of peer support in more detail. Firstly, we will examine what we mean by a peer and we will then go on to consider the relationship between peer support and recovery.
The Peer Relationship
In this session we will examine in more detail the processes and practices of establishing peer relationships. We will build on our earlier learning about the role of mutuality and empowerment in peer relationships. There will be a focus on issues of power, choice and control in peer relationships.
Review and Evaluation
The aim of this session is to give candidates the opportunity to reflect on learning to date; provide support and feedback on the assessment task and to review the content to date. The first assessment task is a written assignment in essay format where students consider their personal recovery story in relation to the recovery approach and the role of peer support.
Use of Language and Communications
As peer supporters, the language we use and how we communicate are key to building good connections with the people we are supporting. This session will focus on how we use the language of recovery and our wider communication skills in the peer relationship. The language of recovery is designed to bring out the strengths and abilities of those in recovery. The aim of this session is to introduce candidates to elements of effective communication, including verbal and non-verbal communication, active listening and the use of recovery language, and to enable them to use these to foster an effective peer support relationship.
Using Your Experiences Effectively
One of the most effective ways to explain recovery to others is by people sharing their experiences. It brings to life the reality of recovery. This session builds on previous learning to enable peer supporters to develop their skills and experience in sharing their experiences in ways that are helpful. This sharing is often described as intentional.
Surviving and Thriving
The aim of this session is to look at approaches to working with people which focus on their strengths and capabilities and on building resilience. This will include examining the ways in which strengths based approach might validate and reframe experience and how it uses role modelling and hope to help individuals build resilience. Strengths based approaches are at the heart of peer support practice.
Positive Risk Taking and Boundaries
The aim of this session is to examine the implications of formalised peer support, encouraging students to examine the related concepts of boundaries, role tension and working with risk. The session will introduce the concept of positive risk taking and the approaches that can be used to help in this process. This will include examining the balance between risk and responsibility in the peer relationship. As part of this, students will deal with the difficult topics of trauma, suicidality and risk.
Review and Evaluation
The aim of this session is to give candidates time to review and evaluate the course and their experience of it, and to finish off any outstanding work. it is an opportunity to reflect on learning, discuss experiences and discuss the final assignment.
Useful Resources
Peer Support Training
About Lesson

There are lots of examples of peer support where a degree of shared knowledge and experience is seen.


‘The most help I got was from the other people in the ward who had gone through similar experiences… The nurses, they’re great but you find, or I find… the best people that helped me were other people that had been through psychosis, had some little pointers, were grounded, that’s the thing.’ (Scottish Recovery Network, 2007)


The quote describes one person’s experience of being on a hospital ward and the support they got from other people staying on the ward. It’s important to note that they weren’t suggesting the help they got from staff on the ward wasn’t helpful – it was just a bit different. 


The idea that people who have had similar mental health experiences can offer each other support is not new. The nature of mental health issues  means it can be harder for people who have not been there to really have the same degree of understanding and empathy as someone who has experienced similar issues. This was described well in a 2008 report from Highland Users Group:


‘The knowledge that we have been through similar experiences can create an immediate bond and sense of trust that we cannot find elsewhere. We find that we can  be more open to each other in ways that we may not with professionals or other people who haven’t experienced mental illness.


We often feel that when we are in the company of fellow users we will be free of stigma, and that the judgemental attitudes we sometimes experience from others will be absent.


We find that we don’t have to explain ourselves as an understanding of what we have been through already exists. We often mentioned the cliché, ‘We’ve been there, done that, got the T- shirt’ which, to most of us, explains it all.’ (Highland Users Group, 2008) 


This gives us an early indication of the additional benefit which can be gained through shared experience. Other examples of mental health peer support include self-help groups where group members have had shared mental  health experiences. Think, for example, of an online forum where group members share and support each other with voice hearing experiences or with Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP), where group learning is shared by a facilitator who has their own WRAP plan and recovery experience. The following quote comes from a member of a self-help group in the Highlands and gives some ideas of what the shared, lived experiences of group members bring:


“We look at life before we became ill, at life now and how we see the future. We show what we can do and have empathy with each other because in different ways we have all been through it. We know what it’s like to shut the door and never go out or what it’s like to take panic attacks. 


Now we have the discussion group; it is so good, everyone contributes and gets it out their system. We look out for each other and take people to see the doctor if they need a companion.


We all have fun, we have a great time, we laugh together and we face challenges together.” (Highland Users Group, 2008)


Other examples of peer support can be found in advocacy and befriending settings where ‘lived experience’ of mental health issues is seen as an asset.


What marks out the peer support worker role from these other examples is the extent to which the role is formalised. This means that the role has been specifically developed to make use of shared experiences of mental health problems and recovery. The peer support worker role also introduces what Shery Mead (a leading writer and trainer) describes as ‘intentionality’. In other words, the intention in peer support worker roles is that the sharing of experiences helps develop strong relationships that are based on mutuality, empathy and shared understanding. This should benefit both peers in the relationship.

Exercise Files
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