Reflections on Intentional Peer Support Training

Intentional Peer Support Training (IPS) Training.

By Sarah O’Connor

I’m a theory girl. Even as a child I always managed to nail the theory part of music, but the practice? Not so much. So when I started learning about intentional peer support (IPS) as a theory, for a work project, I soaked it up.  What I was missing though, was learning about the skills to practice IPS.

Which is where training in IPS comes in. IPS was founded by Shery Mead.

Intentional Peer Support is a way of thinking about and inviting transformative relationships between people. Practitioners learn to use relationships to see things from new angles, develop greater awareness of personal and relational patterns, and support and challenge each other in trying new things.

I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to learn about IPS alongside a team of Buddies volunteers.

The training is a 5 day course with two IPS trainers.  In the training, a few ideas really stood out for me.

The Space in Relationships

This is an interesting way to think about relating to another person.  Instead of thinking about your own and another person’s thoughts and feelings when having a conversation, consider the idea of a relational space between two people.

This means the connection between two people is an active, alive space where two people make an effort to listen and respond to each other in a meaningful way.

Being curious about what a person has to say, without making assumptions and understanding that you can both learn from each other, are intentional ways of connecting to another person.

Some ways of relating to people such as giving reassurance, advice and being directive are not intentional ways of connecting with another person.


Sometimes there can be a “disconnect” in a relationship space.  Say for example, you’ll be taking to someone and they appear distracted, impatient, look away and start fidgeting.  Sometimes, if this happens you might take offense, and make assumptions about what is going on.

Tom Jones looks really bored and like he wants to leave.  Maybe I have done something to offend him?

Our discussion about this really interested me. With IPS you need to adopt the position that you don’t know what is going on for Tom Jones, and for the relational space to work, you need to state clearly, what you are noticing and check out how it is for him.

Hey Tom, I’m noticing there is a bit of a disconnection in this conversation we are having. Are you feeling that too?  I’m wondering where we can go from here?


Sitting with discomfort.

This is a hard one!  Everyone has times where situations can be uncomfortable, but to relate to people in an intentional way, you need to learn to stay with the discomfort.

It can be so tempting with things that are uncomfortable to avoid, run, hide or not try… But running from discomfort doesn’t really get you very far, does it?

For a great example of how to sit with discomfort, check out the role play “Negotiating Reality” with Shery Mead and Beth Filson

You will see how through acceptance, enquiry, trust and clear communication, two people can experience an uncomfortable situation, without avoiding or fleeing the discomfort. What happens is that both parties get though the experience together, and reach a place where they are both at ease.

World view

Everybody has a different “worldview”, or way of seeing the world. So many things influence our world view; our education, religion, family, age, ethnicity. With IPS you need to be able to acknowledge and respect that people have different worldviews- and accept it.   As a theory, this sounds pretty straight forward.  As a practice, it’s a different story.

One of our tasks was to keep a look out for different world views- I found myself looking everywhere and it wasn’t hard to find them.

When you come across different world views, IPS challenges you to accept these world views, no matter how different they may be from your own.

What don’t you give it a try yourself and see what happens…

The tip of the iceberg.

We probably all like to think that we don’t judge people on appearances.  But we often do. IPS talks about the “tip of the iceberg” . This is the idea that when we see someone, we really only see what’s on top.  We can never know what’s going on for a person unless we actually get to them and learn from them.

It’s all very well us learning this, but not everyone else communicates like this, do they?

This was a point raised by a participant during the training.  And it’s a fair one. But one of the trainers raised a good point too.

If you believe this is a good way of communicating, and you practice it yourself, in your everyday relationships, the idea is that it will get through to other people too, through a kind of osmosis.

It may not seem entirely natural way of communicating at first. But the idea is that you practice being curious, communicating clearly, not making assumptions and moving towards something in your relationships.

That’s the idea. Practice, practice, practice.

Karpan's Dreaded Drama Triangle

The Dreaded Drama triangle!

It’s pretty clear to see this is an anxiety based, problem focused triangle with some negative roles at play. Characteristics of a persecutor might be that they have a lot of power over the “victim”, a rescuer enables a victim (to feel good about themselves) and a victim is helpless and vulnerable.

In the middle is a whole lot of space, where no one takes any responsibility.

Our discussion about the different roles we play in our relationships, revealed that we can take on different roles at times and go round in round in circles (or in this case, triangles!) Probably everyone on this earth can relate to at some point, participating in this drama triangle, even though it’s kind of uncomfortable to admit.

The good news is that these roles can change, and life does not have to play out like Karpan’s drama triangle! As demonstrated in David Emerald’s Empowerment Dynamic, the roles can change for the better into a passion based, outcome focused triangle.

The Empowerment Triangle

The “persecutor” becomes a challenger, whose role is to ensure the creator is clear about what they want. The “rescuer” becomes a coach and the “victim” becomes a creator.  The rescuer is on an equal level with the creator, sees them as capable and asks questions which enable them to make informed choices. jpg

What I especially like about the new triangle is that the victim role becomes the creator. The creator’s role is to think about what they want and what their goal, which fits into the intentional peer support model of moving towards something.

What I also like about the new triangle is that the creator is at the top of the triangle not the victim at the bottom.


If you are practising intentional peer support, you need to be able to sustain it and part of this is by using a process of co-reflection.

The process is similar to work supervision. In intentional peer support being reflective involves discussing connections and disconnections you have in the peer relationship and owning your own part in this. In co-reflection you can discuss how you could do things differently in the future.

On the last day, everyone in the training was invited to do a brief presentation, demonstrating what they have learnt about IPS.

My overall summary in the presentation is that IPS is like writing a story- both people come to the relationship with commonalities and different ideas (worldview) and become co-authors of a new story. Both parties are responsible for how the story plays out. Some points of note- “Don’t judge a book by its cover” (the idea of not making assumptions and looking beyond the tip of the iceberg.)

Through dialogue, using your imagination and by being curious, a new story can be created (moving towards).


So as I mentioned earlier, I’m a theory girl. But this training teaches the theory behind IPS and ways in which to practice it. With a smart and funny group of people to learn with, this training has provided a new way of thinking about communication and relationships.

I’m looking forward to meeting up with everyone again when we receive our certificates and in the meantime I need to keep in mind the facilitator’s parting words of wisdom.

If you don’t use it, you lose it!  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s