That individuals who have had the same life experiences can help each other is the basis of peer support. Peer support groups provide a complement – and, for some people, an alternative – to traditional, professionally-guided, talk therapy. Peer support groups are a place to make friends; find people who will advocate with you and help you advocate for yourself; a place to discuss and obtain information on important topics such as medication, disability benefits, family relations, spirituality, and others.
Members of support groups can work together on ways to improve the mental health system and to counter the economic and social discrimination that people with psychiatric disabilities face. The idea that peers are often the people who are best qualified to provide services and support is gaining widespread acceptance among public officials, mental health professionals, and family members – as well as among people with psychiatric illnesses themselves.
Following are some of the benefits of peer support groups, compiled by the National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse in Starting a Self-Help/Advocacy Group:
- The act of joining together with others who have “walked in their shoes” enables individuals to recognize that they are not alone, that other people have had similar experiences and feelings.
- Individuals in the mental health system often do not have the support of family and friends. Self-help groups can provide the support that may be missing from their lives.
- Self-help groups offer a safe place for self-disclosure.
- Self-help groups encourage personal responsibility and control over one’s own treatment.
- Helping others gives group members a sense of their own competence.
- In contrast to professional/client relationships, members of self-help groups interact as equals.
Peer support: developing and facilitating self-help groups. The UPENN Collaborative Retrieved from http://tucollaborative.org/pdfs/Toolkits_Monographs_Guidebooks/peer_support_consumer_run_services_peer_specialists/Peer_support_developing_and_facilitating_self_help_groups.pdf