Today, we will be discussing the value of peer support in addiction recovery. I’d like to look at peer support in three different contexts:
1. Peer driven support
2. Training for peer support
3. Delivering peer support alongside professionals
It’s good to know who your peers are and to connect with them is mutually beneficial. During lockdown I had several calls from CEO’s and Directors of mainly social care and drug and alcohol organisations, and those calls started as, “can I pick your brains” which quickly became a bit of an offload. I didn’t mind it, but I was moved to set up a CEO Forum as it seemed to me that if these CEOs could meet other CEO’s they could connect with each other and that would be valuable to them. Anyway, it worked well, I facilitated 2 separate groups and we met for 11 and 9 weeks respectively over zoom.
Peer support, like many of the other topics we have discussed, is an essential component of addiction recovery. Like a rough diamond takes time to be worked into a jewel, so our recovery journey takes time and patient work and it’s good to give and receive support along the way.
Peer support can happen naturally, for instance, when I was in rehab we used to say, much of the change happened in the ‘tea-room’ (an informal space where residents met up during free time), rather than the counselling room, (a more formal, structured space where you met with a therapist).
1. Peer Driven Support: (1 to 1 and in groups)
• Shared experience:
Peer support provides a space for individuals to connect with others who have faced similar struggles with addiction. This shared experience can help reduce feelings of isolation and shame, increase feelings of belonging and support, and promote a sense of shared purpose.
• Emotional support:
Peer support offers emotional support from individuals who understand what it’s like to struggle with addiction. We can provide encouragement, understanding, and a listening ear during difficult times.
Peer support can provide accountability for individuals in recovery. We can offer encouragement and motivation to stay sober and make healthy choices.
• Role modelling:
Peer supporters can provide positive role models for individuals in recovery. Members who have achieved sobriety and are actively working on their recovery can inspire and motivate others to do the same.
Peers who are interested in providing more intentional support e.g., in a volunteering capacity to individuals in addiction recovery, can benefit from specific training that equips them with the skills and knowledge needed to provide effective support.
2. Training for Peer Support might cover:
• Active listening skills:
Active listening skills involve giving someone your full attention, being present in the moment, and responding empathically to their thoughts and feelings.
• Communication skills:
Peer supporters should be able to communicate effectively and clearly with those they are supporting. This includes the ability to express empathy, offer feedback, and use appropriate language.
• Recovery-oriented knowledge:
Peer supporters should be familiar with the process of addiction and recovery, (going beyond personal experience) including the stages of recovery, the effects of addiction on individuals and families, and the benefits of treatment.
• Self-care and boundary-setting:
Peer supporters need to learn how to manage their own emotional reactions, establish healthy boundaries, and practice good self-care to prevent burnout.
• Crisis management:
Peer supporters need to know how to handle crisis situations, including situations involving relapse or suicidal ideation.
In addition to training, peer supporters could also benefit from ongoing supervision and support to ensure they are providing effective and safe support to individuals in recovery. This can include regular check-ins with a supervisor, opportunities for ongoing training and development, and access to resources and support services as needed. Some external supervision would also be essential so that the trainee peer recovery support volunteer can talk about sensitive issues that reside within the treatment service that is training them.
3. Delivering peer support alongside professionals
Peer supporters can:
• Supplement professional services:
Peers can offer an additional layer of support to individuals in recovery, supplementing the services provided by professional clinicians, counsellors, and therapists. This can also act as an employment pathway in some instances.
• Provide peer support groups:
Peer support groups can be a valuable addition to professional treatment services. Peers can organise and facilitate groups, providing a space for individuals to connect with others in recovery and share their experiences.
• Offer peer coaching:
Peers can offer one-on-one coaching to individuals in recovery, providing support, guidance, and motivation to stay sober and work towards their recovery goals.
• Provide advocacy:
Peers can serve as advocates for individuals in recovery, helping to ensure that their needs are met, and their voices are heard. This can involve working with professionals to develop individualised treatment plans, advocating for resources and services, and providing support during treatment.
• Contribute to programme development:
Peers can provide valuable input and feedback to professionals regarding the design and implementation of addiction recovery programmes. This can help ensure that programs are relevant, effective, and supportive of the needs of individuals in recovery.
Overall, peer support work can be a valuable addition to a peer supporter’s own recovery journey. By helping others, they can gain a sense of purpose, strengthen their own recovery, and develop new skills and connections that can support their ongoing growth and well-being.