What is a peer?
In layman's terms, a peer is a person we identify with in some capacity. This can include anything from age to gender to sexual orientation to shared language and more.
Typically, peer counseling is provided in mental health/behavioral health and substance use treatment programs.
In behavioral health, a peer is usually used to refer to someone who shares the experience of living with a psychiatric disorder and/or addiction. In that narrow context two people living with those conditions are peers, but in reality, most people are far more specific about whom they would rely on for peer support. Trust and compatibility are extremely important factors.
Peer Support versus Peer Counseling?
Peer support is the “process of giving and receiving encouragement and assistance to achieve long-term recovery.” Peer support occurs when people provide knowledge, experience, emotional, social or practical help to each other. We have all likely received support from a peer at some point in our lives. Peer support occurs informally every day in many areas of our lives. However, formal peer support or peer counseling, commonly refers to an initiative consisting of trained and certified peer counselors/peer support specialists who “offer emotional support, share knowledge, teach skills, provide practical assistance, and connect people with resources, opportunities, communities of support, and other people”. In behavioral health, peers offer their unique lived experience with mental health conditions and to provide support focused on advocacy, education, mentoring, and motivation.
Peer counselors often use motivational interviewing and patient centered care, among other tools, to help those they serve achieve their goals and to live a self-directed, fulfilling life.
How do we incorporate the ideas of peer counseling and peer support into helping LGBT+ individuals?
Peer counseling is all about working towards living in "recovery", and according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), recovery is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential. SAMHSA identifies four areas that support a life in recovery: health, home, purpose and community.
Whether or not you are seeking treatment for mental health or substance use, every one of us can benefit from living a health life, having a stable home, a purpose, and a sense of community.
Those principles easily translate to the goals that are often a part of a transgender individual's life and especially with someone undergoing transition, however transition looks to you. Whether it is a medical transition, a social transition, or both.
Continue to check back for more information.
We will soon be providing one on one and group peer support, in person (if safety permits), virtually and over the phone/text.
While we work on building our formal peer support program, join our virtual drop-in center to connect with other trans folks and allies.
What peer support is not.
It is not therapy nor are peer counselors able to give medical advice. Peer Counselors are unique in that they can share their stories and experiences as encouragement; and they are living examples that recovery is possible. Peer counselors/peer specialists cannot diagnose mental health conditions, nor prescribe medication and are not a replacement for traditional mental health treatment but are an essential part of a multi-disciplinary approach to recovery and mental wellness.