The peer support model of addiction treatment has grown increasingly popular over the past several years. Evidence of its efficacy has been shown through a few studies of peer-based therapies for mental health disorders. Peer Recovery Support Services (PRSS), in terms of addiction, have limited empirical evidence, but their outlook is promising.
Peer supporters provide a quality of counseling that others cannot. Their experiential knowledge allows them to empathize with patients in a more meaningful capacity. And though the research is small and limited, many recovery programs have already implemented PRSS.
How PRSS Is Implemented
Peer supporters supplement the work of professional recovery counselors. There have been a few shifts in the healthcare industry over the past ten years that have influenced the adding of peer support models into recovery treatment. Three of the most profound shifts in regards to addiction recovery include:
- The incorporation of recovery philosophy and mental health services into one model of care.
- The movement of mental health services into primary care.
- An increased focus on evidence-based healthcare and best-practice models
There are several distinctions between peer support models and professional support models. For instance, professional support is clinically focused and emphasizes distance and objectivity. While a peer supporter helps those in recovery increase the quality of their personal and family life while offering assistance in tasks they may not be able to complete.
Their lived experience allows them to connect with a peer in a more profound way, and generally, most patients appreciate the fact that their peer supporter understands what they are going through on a more personal level. The professional and peer-supporter work in sync to provide the most effective care.
The methods that peer-supporters are taught are different from professionals. They may learn to teach goal-setting, problem-solving, or other recovery-oriented tools to help their clients face the typical challenges with recovery and preventing relapses.
Common peer support models are as follows:
- Professional-led group therapy with peer exchanges
- Support groups
- One-to-family, or family-to-family support
- One-on-one individual support
While peer support models can be conducted in many settings, there are special qualities to PRSS that separates it from other models. First, peer support is non-judgmental. Because peer supporters have lived similar experiences or lifestyles, clients look at their support as being non-judgemental, whereas a professional who has never lived the experience may harbor feelings of judgment. This perceived judgment causes some patients to hold back on the information they may find embarrassing or shameful. With a peer supporter, clients are more likely to be honest.
Additionally, peer supporters are taught to be empathetic and compassionate towards their clients. Because of their experiential knowledge of addiction recovery, the peer supporter is better able to put themselves in their client’s shoes and share a similar perspective of their addiction. With a professional who has never had a substance abuse disorder, there is no illumination of feelings and lifestyles that comes with addiction. They can go by what they are taught or from their experience with other patients, but empathy can only be superficial. Peer supporters provide comfort that professionals may not.
Peer support is reciprocal. Both parties are benefiting from the experience in one way or another. The client is receiving much-needed emotion and lifestyle change support, while the peer supporter is gaining better tools and a better perspective of addiction recovery. In formal clinical settings, there is an understanding that the patient needs help and the professional provides that help, but in peer support, there is a sharing of power and both parties are aware that they have things to learn.
Sharing of power is a new idea in terms of addiction treatment. No one person is in charge and both peer support and client share responsibility. When people have the freedom to make their own choices, they may begin to act like the people who made those positive choices for them. The peer support model offers clients a chance to take charge of their own lives.
If a person is timid and less assertive than most, the peer supporter helps influence them to take a better role in support groups or one-on-one counseling. When power is shared successfully, people give and take the lead in discussions, both parties are offered a chance to speak, and decisions are made mutually.
PRSS and Aftercare
Peer support models also offer clients tools for rebuilding relationships post-treatment. Through PRSS, a client is able to make healthy connections with loved ones that were damaged during their addiction. Peer support can also be an effective avenue for clients with codependency issues.
In this case, they can help their client recognize codependent behaviors and how to set appropriate boundaries in their relationships. The support offered to a client may provide them the courage to say “no” when their boundaries are crossed. PRSS can also bring to light any enabling behaviors you exhibit or your loved ones exhibit.
Northstar Transitions recognizes the therapeutic aspects of peer recovery support service models included in addiction treatment show promise, but the limited research available decreases the ability to draw definitive conclusions. More research is needed before a consensus from the recovery community is formed about whether PRSS is the most effective model for recovery and relapse prevention. PRSS is a flexible approach that partners people with similar lifestyles and experiences to promote a better understanding of one’s self. Northstar Treatment is here to help you explore all available avenues on your journey to complete recovery. Call us now at 1-303-558-6400.