Mutuality and Empowerment in Peer Support
We will now examine two important aspects of peer support, mutuality and empowerment.
Mutuality means that both parties in a relationship can benefit. This can also be described as a reciprocal relationship. Where mutuality exists there can be:
- shared learning and growth
- greater respect and trust
- a valuing of each other’s experience and contribution
- increased equality within relationships
- a shared investment in making the relationship work
- shared working out of the rules of the relationship
Another way to examine mutuality is to consider dependence, independence and interdependence. Traditionally, we have been encouraged to strive for independence – to stand on our own two feet and to be self-reliant. This was considered to be the best way to avoid becoming dependent upon others. We now understand that it is healthier and more realistic to recognise that we are all interdependent. This means recognising we can all provideand receive support mutually.
Empathy contributes towards mutuality. Empathy relates to the capacity to develop an understanding of another person’s thoughts and feelings. To achieve empathy with another individual it is necessary to try and view the world from their perspective. Empathy can help people build trust and respect in relationships. While having shared experiences can lead to greater empathy this is not always the case.
Empathy differs from sympathy in that it involves a degree of connection with an experience rather than simply feeling sorry for someone. The maxim ‘you should not judge another person until you have walked a mile in their shoes’ gives a general notion of the meaning of empathy.
Empowerment is the process whereby people take control of their lives. It is central to personal recovery (as we identified in session 2). It can be understood as having a sense of personal strength and efficacy and by having control over one’s life. The process of empowerment may also produce hope, another key aspect of recovery. It is also closely linked to strengths-based approaches which we will go on to examine in more detail in Session 9.
Power as a commodity is something which is rarely given away and generally has to be taken in some form. This means you cannot necessarily empower another person. However, an important aspect of peer support is that it can create an environment that encourages people to take a greater degree of power and control in their own recovery.
‘It is the role of the peer worker to ensure that service users are empowered to take control of their own recovery, and encouraging an environment where both parties can share their experiences of what works.’ (Campbell & Lever, 2003)
It is also possible for empowerment to happen in negative circumstances. For example, where the anger felt by people who have been marginalised or oppressed is used as a motivator for social change. The opposite of empowerment is disempowerment. Having an understanding of how power may be taken away and how that feels may help develop our learning on how to take it back.