Characteristics of Peer Supporters

Interpersonal skills are essential for success in peer work. Peer support is centered on forming relationships and engaging individuals in their own pathway to recovery.  The following are some characteristics that help peer supporters communicate with others so they feel understood and heard:

Empathetic – Expressing genuine empathy is one of the main practice guidelines in peer support. Empathy is imperative for instilling hope and confidence in others while holding a safe space for peers to talk about their struggles and make connections. Peer workers must take precaution to regulate their emotions because constant empathetic communication can lead to burnout and secondary trauma.

Self-Aware – Peer supporters must always be aware of how their own personal experiences shaped their past and current perspectives and attitudes. Self-awareness is crucial when communicating with peers so as not to allow our own biases control the conversation or set the tone for what is and is not acceptable.

Open to Learning – Everyone has a treasure trove of personal experiences and hard-won successes to draw upon when communicating with peers. However, peer workers must always keep in mind that what worked for them may not work for others. Remaining open to the many different pathways toward wellness is crucial in this work. Reading up on current knowledge, participating in discussions, and asking questions are a few basic ways to maintain an open-minded learning path.  

Optimistic Worldview – Life has a way of making people feel pessimistic and defeated. Engaging thoughtfully in strengths-based communication helps to emanate a sense of optimism that draws out the strengths and hopefulness in others.  

Appropriate Boundaries – Appropriate boundaries are necessary to prevent burnout and secondary trauma. Saying yes when you mean it, and no when you mean it are necessary for maintaining compassion for both yourself and others.

Culturally Competent – Instilling a sense of resilience, hope and well-being in the people we support requires for peer supporters to be able to see through the lens of worldviews that are not their own.

Honest and Direct – Peer support is not a one-way street. While peer supporters strive to remain open-minded and respectful toward the interests of their peers, we also expect the same level of respect in return. When a peer is behaving in an abusive or disrespectful manner, a peer supporter must know how to communicate with intention and compassion to resolve the issue.  

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