Rationale for Peer Support Programs

Introduction

Helping others is a natural human tendency that is especially evident in times of crises. This tendency is not, however, limited to just the “big events,” but is continuously evident in the way people interact with their environment – be it home, community or work. Concern for the well being of fellow workers and a desire to help them is expressed on a daily basis.

"I see this person suffering, but I don’t know what to do."

Feeling powerless when faced with someone in obvious need can be disheartening – to the individual and ultimately to the work environment. The Peer Support Personnel Programme is designed to addresses such situations by providing new skills that supplement the natural helping capacity of the individual.

Peer support programmes are designed to provide staff with easy access to psychosocial support services, and to enable a work culture to help itself: colleagues helping colleagues, family helping family. They are intended to reinforce colleagues’ natural helping tendencies and the support that is generally found in the work environment.

Rationale For Peers: Family Helping Family

Humans are social animals. Our individual lives are enhanced through social interaction. Our family is our primary social group. From our family we develop our values and beliefs, receive guidance and support, develop our personal identity and self-esteem, and begin to determine our mission in life. In most families, members value the support of its members, learn from their judgments, seek acceptance and approval, and prize membership. Healthy families build self-esteem; unhealthy families can do the reverse. Disaster research has found that individual resilience following a tragedy is enhanced by family and community support. In fact, mental health workers often have a hard time connecting with community groups due to the bond an incident has created between members, and the view of mental health workers as "outsiders".

Two similarly important groups are one’s work family (e.g., department or section, branch, project team, etc.) and professional family (e.g. mill rite, engineer, nurse, disaster response personnel). When a work-related shocking event occurs, affected individuals often look to these groups for acceptance, support and understanding, and, at the same time, may fear the opposite. If the fear is great enough, workers may isolate themselves, emotionally close down, and not communicate negative and irrational thoughts concerning the event. The negative impact of an incident can be greatly exacerbated when these individuals are ignored or receive negative or sarcastic feedback. Similarly, where there is an on-going problem, it is often the co-workers that see a behavioral change in the affected individual. If co-workers do not understand these changes they may respond in a judgmental way, which will discourage constructive dialogue and may, ultimately, compound the problems.

Post-incident trauma interventions, such as debriefings and peer interventions, attempt to provide support to those who have been knocked off balance due to the impact of a shocking event in the workplace. Whether in a state of crisis (not able to function) or emotional distress (able to function, but sad and unresolved with their experience), most people want to be supported by family and friends – people whom they know and feel comfortable with. Peer support programs are designed so that workplace family members can support each other following distressing incidents.

Having peers trained in effective listening and personal problem-solving skills provides co-workers with access to safe resources. A safe, compassionate and responsive co-worker will often provide the impetus a colleague needs to begin to address his/her problems. And the knowledge that someone is available if and when the co-worker chooses to reach out can provide some degree of security.