Over the past decade, the employment of peer support workers (PSWs) within mental health services has taken off. The distinctive element of peer support is that it draws on personal lived experience of emotional distress to support others going through similar experience. However, peer support is not just about sharing lived experience of mental health problems; it can also be about mutual experiences of trauma, education, culture, shared age group, sexuality and life experiences. It is about drawing on all of our roles and strengths to promote and provide whatever support a person requires to help them move closer to their ambitions.
The ability to harness one’s own lived experience and combine this with positive communication and listening skills is at the core of peer support. As a peer support training team, these are the skills that we hope to harness and develop through training for potential Peer Support Workers. With this ambition, so far we have trained over 400 students to become PSWs across the country. Reaching this milestone has been a roller coaster for us and along the way we have learnt a huge amount, not only about what is helpful in delivering training and supporting organisations, but about the incredible strength and inspiring journeys of all the people we have trained.
In 2009, our training team had no idea of the snowball effect they were about to witness surrounding recovery and peer support training. We developed our PSW training module at a time when Peer Support activity was relatively new within the UK but the importance of peer support is gradually becoming more recognised within mental health services.
As we have continued to facilitate PSW training, we have become aware of other areas where specific training might benefit the workforce. We have begun to offer additional training courses based on the emerging needs of organisations, current trends in policy and specific requests from organisations/service user groups. These new projects have now become equally as important as our core PSW training. All the courses which we have expanded to offer are advertised in our new prospectus.
Alongside our advertised courses we have had the opportunity to design bespoke courses and consultancy packages for particular service areas where peer support roles are tailored for a new client group. One such example is our delivery of a bespoke course for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to support the use of PSWs in helping people transition to adult services. During this project, the training team offered bespoke Peer Support Training to the prospective PSWs as well as training to prepare staff teams, help in developing an implementation strategy, and support in discussions with commissioners to explain the importance of peer support work in this specific role. This was provided using a firm base of recovery values and appreciative enquiry meaning that consultancy was supportive, strengths-based and non-directive.
This year, the team has also been thrilled to have been invited to present their work at national conferences. Presentations have included to the 25th World Hearing Voices Congress in Cardiff and the first Narrative Future for Healthcare conference in London. We have used these conferences as a way of sharing our experiences of what works as trainers. Regular presenting has helped the team to become aware of the level of practical understanding and knowledge which we have developed over 5 years. We have been able to present on themes of peer support, story sharing and disclosure, and co-production to name a few. These opportunities have enabled us not only to share our experiences but also to continue learning from a wide range of audiences, co-facilitators and other conference speakers.
Peer support has always been hugely important not only to us as trainers but to us as people in recovery too. There have been times for all of us when the support of a peer has provided us with the understanding and strength we have needed to take our next few steps. As a team this has made us incredibly passionate about recovery and peer support. We hope that in training we pass this passion onto others to spur them on in their individually inspiring paths of recovery.
Institute of Mental Health (Nottingham)