Whilst peer support comes in many forms, each is linked by some basic principles and values that guide the development of services, groups and networks.
- Mutuality and reciprocity
- Empathy and compassion
- Solidarity and companionship
- Equality, respect and empowerment
- No judgement and ‘being yourself’
- Sharing with safety and trust
- A focus on strengths and potential
- Hopefulness and independence
Sheryl Mead, one of the founders of the ‘Intentional Peer Support’ approach, suggests that peer support is more than simply joining a club for people with a similar issue to yourself. It’s also different
Being people-focused, rather than symptom-focused, peer support enables people to find their own ways of understanding their experiences in relation to the experience of others. This can encourage an increased awareness of the social, historical and political context of experiences. For example, someone attending a peer support group may recognise the role of the media in them feeling like they’re ‘crazy’ for hearing voices, or the stress of another Work Capability Assessment for their latest hospitalisation. Issues like social inequality, poverty, trauma, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia may come to the fore. Some people call this as moving from an individualistic narrative to a collectivist one. Whatever name it’s given, people often describe how peer support helps them feel less ‘broken’ or ‘pathologised’.