Peer Support can be a beautiful thing. If it’s carried out in a compassionate, non-judgemental and constructive way, facilitating independent or collaborative action leading to independence.
I have been involved in Peer Mentoring since August 2015 with a local charity. This comes from my desire to share with others what I have learnt through my healing process in the hope that it may aid others in their process. The peer mentoring I am referring to is in the area of mental health and what it entails depends on the organisation, clientèle and the mentoring programme involved.
My experience is as a Volunteer as part of a local programme providing short term contact with someone who is experiencing mental health challenges whether it be anxiety, self-harm, depression, psychosis etc etc etc. At the end of the day we all have mental health challenges, we simply experience those challenges differently as we are at different points along the mental health challenges spectrum at any given point in our life.
As a Peer Mentor the primary aim is to provide support that enables and facilities an individual to take the steps they need to continue their ‘recovery’.
‘Recovery’ this word seems to mean many things. For me, I prefer to say healing as that is essentially what I have been doing. Healing and growing as a person; mind, body and soul. It is a continuous flow of action not a short term smart goal.
What makes for a useful, helpful Peer Mentor?
Critically, an ability to establish a safe environment for a dialogue to take place where individuals can speak freely concerning their needs, emotions, thoughts, and dilemmas. An ability to demonstrate clear boundaries and so act as a role model which assists people to learn to manage themselves.
Personal qualities of being non-judgemental and so accepting and respectful of other people, their circumstances, life styles etc, an ability to self manage be it in emotions, time, awareness of own needs etc and to be able to share space, by that I mean being able to let others exist for themselves. As a Peer Mentor we need to be able to let our mentee explore and learn in their own way and in their time. What worked for us may not work for our mentee.
It is important that Peer Mentors aid their mentee to move forwards. Our time with them is limited. It will be of no use to a mentee if we were to come into their lives, do what was needed for them and then leave. Who will take over after we have gone? It is far more beneficial to support an individual to take steps for themselves thereby giving them a blue print of taking action which they can build on. This is empowering the other person to make decisions for themselves, to take action when they consider it appropriate to do so, leading to increased confidence and independence. It is not for the Peer Mentor to take over things or tell mentees what to do. Our role is to support and facilitate mentees actions, as long as these are of course positive and constructive steps to further healing and so being able to focus on what has been achieved whilst simultaneously noting what needs to be done and reflecting to the other person the skills and qualities we see in them is of great importance. Through a Peer Mentors ability to do this they are aiding the other person to see another way of looking at themselves which may not have occurred to them or perhaps they didn’t have the confidence to believe was true of themselves.
Both Peer Mentor and mentee are on an equal footing, this means we can learn from each other through sharing and exploring solutions, ideas, experiences etc.
There is no one way or ‘right way’ to heal. There is only our way for ourselves, exploring and learning what works for us at any given time.
There is far more that can be said of Peer Mentoring, I hope this blog gives you an idea of what is needed to be a Peer Mentor that benefits a mentees process rather than hinders it.