Where to focus our skills

Due to the uniqueness of the role of a peer support worker, and because we constantly witness the working approaches of other professionals around us, we can sometimes begin to second guess ourselves when it comes to knowing where to focus our skills.

Therefore, the following pages list where we feel peer support skills are best suited, and where we feel they are not.

Peer support workers - where to focus our skills

Lean toward:

  • Sharing how you have turned your difficult experiences into positive ones
  • Difficult experiences - don’t be afraid to have conversations about big emotions, and validate how someone is feeling
  • Sharing your experiential knowledge of services and the ways you have found to live well
  • Providing your perspective and giving feedback on the services you work in to support and improve the quality and effectiveness of services (this could include feedback on assessments and decisions made with regards to a person’s care and support)
  • Providing face-to-face, telephone, online or group support which focuses on emotional support, sharing experiences and practical activities
  • Advocating for the people who use your services – this can be achieved in ward rounds, team meetings, handovers, and conversations with colleagues
  • Asking people what has worked for them in the past, or what they want to do about an issue, before you share ideas about what might work for them now
  • Offering time to the people who use your services to actively listen, share ideas, problem solve (support decision making) and provide practical help based on your own experiential knowledge
  • Supporting the people who use your services to move towards the things they want (personal recovery goals) and signposting people to various resources, opportunities and activities within the Trust and in the community
  • Trying to understand people through the lens of their experiences and not through a medical diagnosis
  • Asking powerful and challenging questions (example – why do you think you can’t have what you want?)
  • Sharing needs, thoughts and feelings around maintaining the peer support relationship
  • Working together with other professionals for the greater good of the organisation (remember the overall objective for all staff is to improve the lives of the people who use services)
  • Being as honest and transparent with the people who use your services as you can be. There is a saying in mental health services: “nothing about us without us”. Try to remember this when recording notes etc.
  • Listening from a point of not knowing and provide a safe space for people to get things off their chest
  • Challenging stigma and stigmatising language in supportive and non-aggressive ways and promoting recovery-focused language
  • Promoting peer support at any given opportunity (newsletters, notice boards, conversations)
  • Receiving peer support co-reflection (supervision) in order to reflect on challenges and prevent the slipping away from the core values of peer support
  • Accompanying people to appointments, meetings and activities that are aligned to their recovery goals
  • Seeking support when you need it, outside of supervision and find out what kind of support works best for you
  • Using every opportunity to be part of a no force first culture and promote the use of de-escalation instead of restraint

Lean away from:

  • Trying to fix people or jumping in with solutions before exploring what people think they can do for themselves
  • Delivering therapies or treatment based on professional/medical training
  • Assessing or evaluating the people who use your services (although you can be part of an assessment to provide peer support and perspective)
  • Undertaking the routine duties of other staff (bedroom cleans, errands etc), unless you feel it strengthens the peer relationship and doesn’t affect the balance of power in the relationship
  • Making assumptions about a person’s needs or experiences. You may be able to relate to certain things, but that doesn’t mean one knows what is truly happening for another person
  • Sharing anything you don’t feel comfortable sharing.
  • Creating further separation between services and the people who use them.
  • Giving out medications unless you feel it strengthens the peer relationship and doesn’t affect the balance of power in the relationship

Peer support worker - Code of conduct

Peer Support Worker – means any person employed explicitly into a role that involves peer support.

Service user – means any client with which you are working and therefore refers to carers or families if they are your client.

As a ‘Peer Support Worker’ you…

Have a duty of care to service users, colleagues and self;

Should attend and make use of supervision and other learning opportunities – and should ensure that their learning and professional development is kept up to date;

Should act in a way that will promote the best interests of the service user and promote their health and wellbeing;

Should seek guidance from senior colleagues about an issue that they are concerned about;

Should treat every service user as an individual and respect their right, dignity, beliefs and self-determination;

Should not engage in any inappropriate relationships or activities with service users, which includes sexual, romantic and financial relationships;

Should always work in a collaborative way with service users;

Should not borrow, loan, give or receive any items, gifts or services to or from service users;

Should respect and value the contribution of all colleagues;

Should never exploit, devalue, manipulate, abuse or neglect a service user;

Should maintain service user confidentiality;

Should always work in a non-discriminatory manner and should not practice, condone, facilitate or collaborate in any form of discriminatory activity on the grounds of age, ethnicity, nationality, marital or parental status, religion, beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, abilities or disabilities or any other defining characteristic;

Should keep accurate records;

Should limit or halt your work if your performance or judgement is affected by your health.

Should only undertake tasks or duties that you feel competent to carry out safely;



As a ‘Peer Support Worker’ you can expect to...

Be valued and respected for the vital contribution that they make to patient care;

Be able to express concern about patient care;

Be heard as an equal member of the team;

Have access to a supervisor to help guide and support you;

Receive personal development and feedback on your performance;

Be treated equitably and fairly;

Access personal and professional training, to progress and develop your knowledge;

Receive pay that reflects the role that you are undertaking.

8 Core principles

These principles describe the core philosophy and values of peer support and they underpin the whole of the training. Students are encouraged to keep developing their understanding of these as the training progresses. Their reflective coursework will give each student the chance to show what they mean to them in their own words, using their own examples.



A relationship based on shared experience, empathy, authenticity and respect

The experience of peers who give and gain support can never be identical.   However, peer workers in mental health settings share some of the experiences of the people they work with. They have an understanding of the experience of mental health challenges, the meaning of being defined as a ‘mental patient’ in our society and the confusion, loneliness, fear, helplessness and hopelessness that can ensue. 


All contribute to and gain from the relationship in a shared process of problem solving 

Traditional relationships between mental health professionals and the people they support are founded on the assumption of an expert (professional) and a non-expert (patient/client).  Mental health professionals define the reality of those whom they serve within a range of different theories; this obviates the possibility of reciprocity.  Peer relationships involve no claims to such special expertise but involve a sharing and exploration of different world views and the generation of solutions together.


Within a peer relationship one person does not prescribe what is “good for” the other

Because of their claims to special knowledge, mental health professionals prescribe the ‘best’ course of action for those whom they serve.  Peer support is not about introducing another set of experts who offer prescriptions based on their own experience - ‘you should try this because it worked for me’.  Instead, they help people to recognise their own resources and seek their own solutions.  “Peer support is about being an expert in not being an expert and that takes a lot of expertise.” (Recovery Innovations, 2007)

Recovery focused

The relationship focuses on helping people to grow within and beyond what has happened

Peer support engages in Recovery focused relationships by

  • Inspiring HOPE.  Peers embody Recovery and offer images of possibility.  They are in a position to say ‘I know you can do it’ and generate personal belief, energy and commitment with the person they are supporting.
  • Sharing practical strategies and techniques to manage personal challenges and so help the person they are supporting to take back CONTROL of their personal challenges and define their own destiny. 
  • Facilitating access to OPPORTUNITIES that the person values and enabling them to participate in roles, relationships and activities in the communities of their choice.

Strengths based

It recognises people’s courage, strengths and skills and how they can use these to pursue their dreams

Peer support involves a relationship that is not afraid of extreme emotions (whether these are of anger, despair, fear …) and is about being with someone in their distress.  But it is also about seeing within that distress the seeds of possibility and creating a fertile ground in which the person can grow.   It explores what a person has gained from their experience, seeks out qualities and assets, identifies hidden achievements and celebrates what seem like the smallest steps forward.


Peers help people engage with and contribute to their communities
Being ‘peer’ is not just about having mental health challenges, but understanding the meaning of such experiences within the communities of which the person is a part.  This can be critical among those who feel marginalised and misunderstood by traditional services .  Someone who knows the language, values and nuances of those communities has an understanding of the resources and possibilities within those communities.  This equips them to help others become a valued member of their community.  


A shared journey of learning and growing together

Peer support is not a static friendship but progressive mutual support in a shared journey of discovery; not just a buddy but a travelling companion with both learning new skills, developing new resources and reframing challenges as opportunities for finding new solutions. 


Feeling able to express ourselves freely in a supportive relationship, where everyone feels safe

Supportive peer relationships involve the negotiation of what safety means to both parties in terms of emotional safety.  This can be achieved by discovering what makes each other feel unsafe, sharing rules of confidentiality, demonstrating compassion, authenticity and a non-judgemental attitude and acknowledging that neither of you have all the answers.



Rate this page or report a problem

Rate this page or report a problem

branding footer logo