Peer Leaders – as an example of recovery

I’ve been running (slowly) three times a week since the New Year*, and I’ve now started to run along to some of the recordings I’ve made of events.

This morning I listened to the inspirational speech given by Gene Johnson of Recovery Innovations at the NHS Confed Peer Workers event last week (as described in this earlier post). He covered a lot of ideas and I’m sure I’ll refer to it repeatedly.

He described how peer workers encourage recovery in many ways. They encourage recovery for the people they work with, and their work also aids their own recovery. But importantly they also help recovery within the organisation.

Staff, especially in inpatient units, can get so used to seeing people in times of crisis and distress that they start to lose sight of what people can be like without that distress. Having peer workers working alongside them, reminds existing staff that people do recover to something much more than their distressed selves would suggest. Peer workers raise ambitions for recovery.

I have seen peers doing this for people who are experiencing distress in my own work as a researcher and trainer. Interviewees have fed back that they have appreciated being interviewed by a peer as they know I have that understanding from personal experience. Many have expressed their surprise that a researcher can have been there, and that it gives them some hope that they too can recover their own strengths. I have seen the same as a trainer: students at the end of the course feed back that I have given them hope just by being there to provide an example that recovery is possible.

And if it works in this way with people who are experiencing distress, then it must have a similar effect with existing staff. Peers have a definite role in offering hope to all of an ambitious level of recovery.

* Latest running enthusiasm (and I was never a runner) is entirely down to Laura and the NHS Couch to 5k Podcasts.

Role of Peer Workers – conference

This event was hosted by NHS Confed – description and presentations are available online on their site.

It was interesting to compare this event with the one last year in Perth for the Scottish Recovery Network (presentations, including the Experts by Experience guidelines, available on their site).

Peer support work in Scotland has advanced so that there were many peer support workers and hosting organisations at the Scottish event. The evaluations of peer support in Scotland have shown that it is essential that the hosting organisation already has a committment to recovery principles and that peer workers can’t be used to introduce recovery to an organisation.

The people I spoke to in Perth were enthusiastic about peer support, and were clear about the need for the Experts by Experience guidelines. The keynote speech from Shery Mead and the ¬†international view from Chris Hansen were both inspiring, and the reality of implementation described in the workshop presentations was reassuring. It was great to attend an event where so many in the audience ‘got’ peer support and had already started to implement it. I left with the impression that organisations in Scotland were getting on with it, and learning from these first attempts.

In contrast, many of the organisations attending the London event hadn’t yet started with peer workers – they were there to learn. Their cautious steps forward will be interesting. They are taking the learning from others, including Gene Johnson from Recovery Innovations in Arizona, before moving forwards.

I co-facilitated a workshop with Julie Repper and Marissa Lambert from the Institute of Mental Health in Nottingham. Hard work delivering the same workshop three times! But interesting to see people’s reactions and hear their questions. We described the learning from delivering a course which has now had 150 trainees – all of whom have the potential to be peer support workers as posts become available. And the slide showing the Peer Support cake from one of our recent students, with it’s recipe for Peer Support, gained a lot of retweets.

The overall impression I took of the event in London was that organisations in England are being cautious and want to learn from the people who have tried this locally first. They were keen to hear from the NHS trusts in South West London, Central and North West London (CNWL) and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, who are already employing Peer Support Workers.

I guess there are differences between Scotland and England, especially when it comes to Health Services, but I would have liked to have seen someone from Scotland sharing their knowledge and experience. Sharon Gilfoyle of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Trust presented at both events – in Scotland they wanted to hear about the English experience. I wondered why this wasn’t reciprocated.

I felt that Scotland have attempted a first iteration of peer support in the UK. I am not certain that their English counterparts are learning from them or whether they are starting from a completely different base. Whichever way it is, the only certainty is that peer support is definitely something that will be taken forward.