Peer support occurs when people provide knowledge, experience, emotional, social or practical help to each other. A peer is in a position to offer support by virtue of relevant experience: he or she has “been there, done that” and can relate to others who are now in a similar situation.
The effectiveness of peer support is believed to derive from a variety of psychosocial processes described best by Mark Salzer in 2002: social support, experiential knowledge, social learning theory, social comparison theory and the helper-therapy principle. Social support is the existence of positive psychosocial interactions with others with whom there is mutual trust and concern. Social learning theory postulates that peers, because they have undergone and survived relevant experiences, are more credible role models for others.
Interactions with peers who are successfully coping with their experiences or illness are more likely to result in positive behavior change. Social comparison means that individuals are more comfortable interacting with others who share common characteristics with themselves, such as a psychiatric illness, in order to establish a sense of normalcy. Peer mentoring takes place in learning environments such as schools, usually between an older more experienced student and a new student. This form of peer support is widely used within schools. Peer mediation is a means of handling incidents of bullying by bringing the victim and the bully together under mediation by one of their peers.
Provider benefits in evaluations of consumer; can inspire others to more insightful efforts. Served in the military, this form of peer support is widely used within schools.
Peer support can occur within, outside or around traditional mental health services and programs, between two people or in groups. Peer support is a key concept in the recovery approach and in consumer-operated services programs. Program is a peer-led support group for cognitive-behavioral therapy of persons with mild to moderate panic disorders.