Becoming a Peer Support Worker

The role of Peer Support Worker (PSW) has been developed for people who have lived experience of mental distress.

A PSW provides formalised peer support and practical assistance to help service users regain control over their lives and their own unique recovery process. They work with service users, with the aim of supporting them to achieve a better quality of life despite mental health difficulties.

A Peer Support Worker is someone who will have been on their own recovery journey and explicitly draws upon and shares their lived experiences of recovery from mental health challenges, and tells their own recovery story, to inspire hope, model recovery and inform service users, as well as supporting service users in finding their own path to recovery.

PSWs offer empathy and compassion, they help normalise what the service user is feeling, and what they are going through, and help them understand they are not alone. It is through this trusting relationship, which offers empathy and empowerment, that feelings of isolation and rejection can be replaced with hope, opportunities and belief in personal control and self-advocacy.

Peer Support Workers within NSFT

Within NSFT Peer Support Workers are valued employees who have experienced mental health challenges either themselves or as a carer.  PSWs are band 3 staff employed across our services and teams including acute wards, community teams, rehabilitation and day treatment services, and within our mother and baby unit. Our PSWs are required to attend and pass a comprehensive on-the-job training programme to ensure they have everything they need to make them successful in their roles.

What a Peer Support Worker is not

Peer Support Worker is not a clinical role. PSWs don’t diagnose or provide treatments, they are not lead carers for service users and they do not offer therapy or advice. Peer support is based only on lived experience of recovery, plus some technical skills gained through training.

Benefits of being a PSW

Peer Support Workers find there are many benefits to their role:

  • Gain greater confidence and self-esteem
  • Increased feeling of empowerment on their own recovery journey
  • Develop a more positive sense of identity
  • Feel more valued
  • Feel less stigmatised
  • An opportunity to gain more skills
  • General benefits of being employed

A few our PSWs have spoken about their experiences of becoming and being a Peer Support Worker.

Read their stories


What qualities do you look for in a Peer Support Worker?

The first thing we look for is personal experience of living with a mental health condition, experience of using mental health services and experience of personal recovery. It is essential that you have learned to self-manage your mental health and have developed techniques and strategies to keep yourself well long-term. In addition, as a PSW you need to be able to use your own experiences positively and share your recovery journey with service users to support them on their recovery journey.

Other qualities include a genuine interest in people and good listening and communication skills. To be resilient, non-judgemental, empathetic and compassionate. You need to have a positive attitude, the skill to motivate and encourage others and the ability to work with a diverse range of individuals.

We also look for a commitment to successfully completing all required training.

Furthermore, you must be able to demonstrate you have the NSFT Trust Values.

What are the benefits of peer support for the service user?

Service users gain many benefits from working with PSWs, these include:

  • Greater feelings of being accepted and understood
  • More hopefulness about their own potential
  • Increased self-esteem, confidence and sense of control over their life
  • More positivity in their feelings about the future
  • Better understanding of self
  • Development of self-management strategies and problem-solving skills
  • Reduced self-stigmatization and the negative consequences this brings

What kind of relationship do PSWs have with service users?

The relationship between PSWs and service users has been defined as:

Offering and receiving help on shared understanding, respect and mutual empowerment between people in similar situations

Mead et al., 2001

Connections with service users are built on a mutual understanding of how mental health issues can and do affect life. PSWs demonstrate recovery is possible and, within this recovery-focused relationship, they can help identify and highlight the service user’s strengths and achievements which they may be unable to see for themselves.

PSWs are not experts in anyone's mental health other than their own. They recognise what might have worked for them may not work for another. Their relationship with a service user is on an equal setting, working together without directing the service user, but by helping them find their own solutions.

What training do Peer Support Workers receive?

NSFT Peer Support Worker training course

After you are successful in getting a job as Peer Support Worker with NSFT you will then be required to complete and pass the NSFT Peer Support Worker training course.

Our comprehensive training programme equips people to work as Peer Support Workers within an NHS organisation. It:

  • Covers how to use lived experience effectively and within appropriate therapeutic guidelines
  • Explores the Recovery Model of mental health and how support someone to start their recovery journey
  • Explains the Key Principles of Peer Support and how to maintain them within the role as part of the wider organisation
  • Provides the opportunity to practice the many key skills needed to be successful in the job

Care Certificate

The Care Certificate is a knowledge and competence framework which is designed for staff new to health and/or social care services. It is a learning and development tool which ensures that new staff have the right skills, knowledge and behaviours to undertake their role.

There are 15 standards within the framework which you would need to achieve before you can work in more autonomous ways with services users. Peer Support Workers need to be complete the Care Certificate within the first 12 weeks of employment at NSFT.

Additional NHS training

You would also receive statutory NHS training including, but not limited to, mental health legislation; safeguarding adults and children; health, safety and welfare; suicide prevention; moving and handling; fire training and basic first aid.

What do you mean by recovery?

In mental health, ‘recovery’ means the process through which people find ways to live meaningful lives, with or without the ongoing symptoms of mental health problems.

It is a personal journey of discovery that involves making sense of and finding meaning in what has happened, becoming an expert in your own self-care, building a new sense of self and purpose and discovering your own resourcefulness.

ImROC, Shepherd et al, 2008

Every person will have an idea of what recovery means for them and has it within themselves to find that path to recovery.

If you wish to find out more about personal recovery our Recovery College offers a one-day course on What is Recovery?

How do Peer Support Workers fit into service teams?

Our PSWs work as an integrated part of multi-disciplinary teams. They work together with mental health professionals to ensure a blend of knowledge and experience shapes our services. They work alongside mental health nurses, social workers, assistant practitioners, clinical support workers, occupational therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists.

Peer support work complements clinical practice by offering an expertise in recovery and asset-based approaches. PSWs are highly valued by their colleagues and attend regular team meetings in order to contribute with invaluable lived experience to support people with enduring mental health problems.

What are some examples of support being provided by PSWs?

  • Having conversations with service users, sharing life experiences and lessons learned as a person in recovery to inspire hope and help motivate them.
  • Facilitating discharge from inpatient wards, working across boundaries to engage with inpatients prior to discharge, spending time planning for life in the community and then supporting people after discharge by home visits, meetings with friends and community contacts.
  • Leading on personal recovery planning, using their own experience to help the person identify and prioritise goals, developing understanding, control and self-management strategies.
  • Accompany service users to appointments and meetings, helping the service user think through questions and concerns prior to appointments and how best to convey these to professionals. This can specifically help to establish the culture of ‘shared decision making’ (e.g. regarding care planning, medication management, safety, etc.)
  • Meet, welcome, introduce and orientate the service user, their carer and families to the ward/service upon arrival. Introduce themselves as a PSW with lived experience and help the Service User normalise what they are going through to help reduce their distress.
  • Supporting people with graded exposure, helping them overcome fears within a relationship of empathy and trust. For example, accompanying service users to places and/or groups until they are confident and comfortable to attend alone.
  • Signposting to other services, resources and activities within the community (housing, hobbies, physical health, exercise, etc.) including facilitating access to computers and the internet.
  • Supporting people with developing individual wellness plans.
  • Sharing experience and expertise on recovery focussed approach within their teams and attending team meetings to provide PSW perspectives, input ideas and receive PSW related work.
  • Co-facilitating therapy groups encouraging service users to participate in order to learn helpful techniques to support their recovery as well as improving socialisation.
  • Supporting learning in Recovery Colleges, as well as working with Recovery College staff to co-produce and co-deliver courses and helping service users get the most out of courses.

What are the benefits of having PSWs in Clinical Teams?

Peer Support Workers can play a role in changing culture, reducing stigma and increasing our focus on recovery. Within a team they can:

  • Drive forward a recovery-focused approach
  • Challenge negative attitudes of staff
  • Provide inspiration for all members of the team
  • Break down barriers between ‘them’ and ‘us’
  • Drive forward cultural change within the organization
  • Reduction in re-hospitalisations and length of stays

What support do you provide for Peer Support Workers?

Within NSFT you will be well supported within your team and the wider NSFT peer support network through:

  • Line management supervision
  • Clinical supervision
  • Peer support supervision
  • Group supervision with other Peer Support Workers
  • Help from members of your team
  • Reflective practice

How can I keep myself well as a Peer Support Worker?

Having spent time on your own recovery you should have a good view of what you need to do to stay well. WRAP is a good tool to help maintain wellness, and you could consider developing a Wellness at Work Plan to share in supervisory relationships, especially if you feel you may not notice early signs of problems or if you know you are good at brushing these aside.

To find out more about making plans to keep yourself well our Recovery College offers a course on Wellness Planning.

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