Intentional Peer Support
Working on the model devised by Shery Mead, we have trained a number of people who use mental health services in Sutton as Intentional Peer Support Workers (IPSWs).
IPSWs are people who have personal experience of mental distress and of using mental health services. They offer mutual support to anyone who feels that it may be helpful to talk about their own experience of mental distress and mental health services with someone who has been there too. Thus establishing a mutually beneficial relationship, which is both supportive and moves towards personal goals.
“Intentional Peer Support” is the term used to describe a variety of groups and/or practices where people seek to learn and grow as equals by drawing on their own and each others’ knowledge, skills and experiences. Peer support is most commonly found in settings where it is important that people of the same standing look out for each other, and where power, hierarchy, disempowerment and claims to special knowledge about others have been found to get in the way of people working together and caring for themselves and each other.
“The class was organised in such a way that we all learned from each other, and visibly grew together”
(Teresa’s testimonial – read the full transcript below)
Intentional Peer Support avoids the psychiatric or medical model based around a diagnosis and instead starts with people’s own stories.
Intentional Peer Support is about creating relationships that make it okay for us to not just be in peer relationships, but to use them as a tool to take a bigger look at how we’ve learned to operate in the world… Being intentional means that we come into the relationship with a specific purpose in mind. While peer support assumes the characteristics of any healthy relationship, there is also a specific intention. The intention is to purposefully communicate in ways that help both people step outside their current story. (Mead, 2005, p.15)
Intentional Peer Support and Me
My experience of Intentional Peer Support began in Springfield Hospital.
I was smiling on the outside but inside I was dying. This might sound dramatic, but I was in a very dark place at the time and just wanted out. An Intentional Peer Support Worker (IPSW) approached me and asked if I wanted to talk. What had I got to lose?
I felt comfortable in her company and gradually opened up. Feelings that I thought were dead and buried resurfaced. Although they evoked painful memories, the experience was extremely cathartic. The IPSW was empathetic and allowed me to relate my tale without judging at any time.
For the first time in ages I had allowed someone else into my life and she held onto hope for me. It was a chance for me to unburden myself and feel safe doing so. I felt supported and at no time was I talked at which had happened previously with those in authority. Our relationship was mutual. I realised then that I was not alone – the relief was incredible.
Once I had been discharged from Hospital, I continued to see the IPSW in the Community. We resumed where we had left off – it felt good and quite natural. We continued to meet for about 3 months. During this time, I returned to work –and she was there to support me through it.
I felt I wanted to give something back as my experience had been so positive. I was impressed with the support I had received when I felt vulnerable and alone, so I decided that I would like to help people in a similar situation to myself by training to become a IPSW myself and I haven’t looked back since.