I’ve been involved in various capacities as someone providing peer support and have been trained in various context to provide peer support. Peer support comes from a few options of different principles with various degrees of radicality. Generally, it starts from the belief that as peers, friends, community members of other folks we can be better equipt to hear, listen, and support the lives and experiences of others, a process that we are often inclined to do (though perhaps not sure what tools we are using and which tools better lend to our goal.) From that point though the goals of peer support or a peer support service can vary rapidly. Some services operate from a framework that sees itself as a first step, a listening ear to prep someone for other services if necessary, point a. Others view peer support as “the radical belief that anyone can support anyone else without the need for psychiatry or professional training/degrees”. Between those two points there are wide variety of approaches and inter-mixings.
Currently I provide peer support in a service operating from the first description even while I as an individual supporter am far closer to the latter. I mean for this post to be an examination of how something as radical as equipping peers and community members to overcome the destructive communicative tendencies we have often internalized to enable listening to others and supporting their agency can become locked in a specialized service with inaccessible training with a high focus on individualism.
Regardless of the framework the inherent grain is something radical, something to be nurtured. Yet sometimes it is twisted to come from a place of minimizing the load on more professional services as peer support requires less training and is usually conducted by volunteers or with a high percentage of volunteers in services. It can be used as a tool to offload the strain on governmental, corporate, or university services while coming from a place that is very defensible and rooted in training ‘the community.’
Yet that is at least partially false. In a community facilitation class I took recently we discussed how completely inaccessible peer support training is unless one is willing to commit one’s self to volunteer commitments of varying duration and receive it as part of the package. Our ability to support ourselves and our communities has been increasingly tied to the non-profit system (and for me, it is apparent, also the university system.)
As well the notion of agency becomes reduced to a particular kind of neoliberal choice, where instead promoting the radical notion of someone’s ability to decide and determine how to survive and work the system for themselves shifts to being about providing endless choice through endless referrals and no framework of analysis and understanding. Instead allowing a system to truly support analyze it merely becomes about individuals choosing to use a service and then to chose more services. That is valuable, but it doesn’t go deeper.
The radicallity is removed. Peer support becomes a model of service providing rather than of community support and accountability.