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Peer Support:

Peer Support vs. Peer Support Services

what are peer support services

By Rita Cronise, Co-Director PeerTAC

What is Peer Support?

“Simply put, peer support is a natural human response when people in a particular circumstance reach out to help others in the same or a very similar circumstance. It is the act of a person who has experienced a particular challenge helping someone else to deal with that same life challenge. Naturally occurring peer support offers a person the hope of facing a challenge with the support of someone who has been there. It is not limited to mental health or substance use recovery(1).”

Steve Harrington,
Founder, National Association of Peer Supporters

What are Peer Support Services?

While there are similarities, there is a difference between naturally occurring peer support and Peer Support Services, which are formalized programs or interventions that are typically organized and offered by mental health organizations, community centers, or support groups. When providing peer support as a service, there are specific training requirements that must be met and added responsibilities like job tasks, documentation, reporting, working with a variety of colleagues and working under supervision.

Peer Support Providers

Those who provide Peer Support Services are usually paid, which makes the relationship with a person more complex than the mutual support/reciprocal relationship that occurs in natural peer support(2), but the benefits of reaching and building trusting relationships with people through the service can be as rewarding as naturally occurring peer support. 

Whether provided for youth, family, adult, or older adults these services combined are known as Peer Support Services and the people providing the services are known as Peer Support Specialists, Family Peer Advocates, or Youth Peer Advocates. 

Those who provide Peer Support Services are cultural and recovery ambassadors – they promote connection and inspire hope.

As members of an integrated care team, Peer Specialists/Advocates make contributions that assist with engagement, practical assistance to achieve and sustain skills, development of coping mechanisms, empowerment, and building relationships. 

Integrated team

Benefits of Peer Support Services

There are many benefits associated with Adult Peer Support Services(3):

  • Decreased substance use and depression
  • Reduced hospital admission rates
  • Decreased self-stigma
  • Increased esteem and confidence
  • Increased engagement and activation in treatment
  • Increased social support and social functioning
  • Increased sense of control
  • Increased empathy and acceptance

Benefits associated with Family Peer Support Services(4) include:

  • Active partnering with families
  • Strengths-based
  • Embraces diversity
  • Creates purpose and fosters hope
  • Removes stigma and feelings of isolation
  • Increased engagement in services
  • Increased social supports and fosters a sense of community
  • Increased self-efficacy

Benefits associated with Youth Peer Support Services(5) include:

  • Youth are more likely to seek support from peers than adults
  • Proactive vs. reactive
  • Embraces diversity by representing young people
  • Fosters hope and recovery
  • Creates purpose and fosters hope
  • Removes stigma and feelings of isolation
  • Increased social supports and fosters community
  • Increased engagement in services

Both naturally occurring peer support and Peer Support Services have shown to be beneficial in promoting recovery, resilience, and well-being among individuals facing various challenges, including mental health issues, addiction, chronic illnesses, and other life stressors(6).

Steve Harrington, quoted above, founded the National Association of Peer Supporters (N.A.P.S.) in 2004. In 2015, he had a career ending stroke but recorded this short video for attendees at the National Peer Specialist Conference. In this message he calls us to learn about and work together with other members of the interdisciplinary team because we all want the same thing — for the people receiving our support and services to live the best life possible.

Steve Harrington, Founder National Association of Peer Supporters (N.A.P.S.)

  1. Quote by Steve Harrington (n.d.). National Association of Peer Supporters website.
  2. SAMHSA (2017). Peer Support.
  3. SAMHSA (2017). Value of Peers Infographic.
  4. SAMHSA (2017). Family, Parent and Caregiver Peer Support in Behavioral Health Infographic.
  5. SAMHSA Website (2023). Youth and Young Adults.