PEERS: Definition and Role Expectations
A natural and healthy response by co-workers in any organization is to offer support to colleagues who are going through tough times. The more this occurs naturally the less is the need for “specialized” peer support. However, due to demanding work loads, challenging shifts, complacency, or a myriad of other factors, this naturally occurring support is often not forthcoming. Also, because of the nature of some incidents or situations (professional error, death, serious diagnosis, work conflict) co-workers often don’t know what to say or how to handle the situation.
The purpose of a peer support program is not to take away from the naturally occurring support of colleagues; rather, the program ensures that the organization is “proactive” in its response to critical incidents, thus ensuring that no one is forgotten following an incident or in the midst of a personal or interpersonal problem.
Once a peer-support program is established, participants take on increased responsibility and obligations. It is more than a Good Samaritan program; the role brings with it specific expectations and ethical obligations. Following are definitions and some of the expectations that are inherent in the Peer Support Personnel Program:
- A work colleague perceived by an other to be an equal
- Peer Support Person
- Level 1: A peer trained in emergency emotional first aid with the mandate to be proactive, or to ensure that others have been proactive, with colleagues following an acutely stressful, traumatic or emotionally gripping incident in the workplace (Critical Incident).
- Level 2: To provide support and guidance with personal and interpersonal problems that are affecting a colleague’s ability to function.
Role of the Peer Support Person (psp)
A psp is expected to:
- Be respected by their peers as a trustworthy and honourable person
- Have basic training in interpersonal peer support:
- Level 1: The causes, impact, and management of acute stress and emotionally distressing incidents
- Level 2: The recognition of personal and interpersonal problems such as cumulative stress, burnout, individual and relationship problems
- Be available on a rotation basis to offer peer support to colleagues
- Maintain strict confidentiality and other ethical standards
- Have access to a mental health professional who will provide supervision
- Be familiar with internal or external follow-up counselling resources
- Recognize the limits of peer support and know when and how to make appropriate referrals to outside resources
- Participate in the peer support network
And in the case of a critical incident:
- Participate in any staff activities pertaining to the Peer Support Personnel Programme
- Provide support to the supervisor and employees at the scene of a critical incident when possible
- Minimize the risk of secondary trauma to individuals by ensuring that responses from the organization, fellow employees, outside agencies and media are appropriate when dealing directly with those involved
- Assist the mental health professional in debriefings when requested
- Conduct follow-up interventions when assigned
- Assist the programme coordinator in the review and ongoing development of the Peer Support Personnel Programme