Who Gets to Define “Peer Support?” : The Danger of Substituted Values and Voice

The Danger of Substituted Values and Voice

Darby Penney, M.L.S.

This presentation will explore the process through which peer support has morphed into paid staff positions within traditional mental health agencies over the past 20+ years, and how this process has co-opted the concept of peer support. Peer support was originally a grassroots, non-hierarchical approach rooted in mutual aid and consciousness-raising groups organized in the 1970s. Over the past two decades, state mental health authorities have developed a "peer staff model," exemplified by the rapid expansion of "peer specialist" positions within traditional mental health programs. This model is characterized by employees with psychiatric histories working in paraprofessional roles, often performing the same tasks as non-peer staff. Relationships between peer staff and service users are generally hierarchical, in contrast to the horizontal relationships that characterize grassroots peer support. This presentation will discuss the processes through which this happened and offer recommendations for redefining terminology to distinguish between these very different types of roles and safeguarding the future of genuine peer support.

Learning Objectives:

Participants will:

1)] Understand the philosophical and practical distinctions between "grassroots peer support" and the "peer staff model."

2) Understand the processes by which "peer support" morphed into "peer specialists" over time in the public mental health system.

3) Be able to describe policy and practice options to safeguard the future of genuine peer support in the face of managed care.

Link to brief presenter bio: Darby Penney