by Eileen McAtee
It was one of those times where I printed out something from the internet and added it to my reading pile which I proceeded to ignore for months. Nearly a year later I finally read the paper and next minute I was running around the office telling everyone “what she said!”
The paper was Sandy Watson’s keynote from the 2013 Peer Conference in Australia put on by the Centre of Excellence in Peer Support. Sandy Watson was among the first consumer workers employed by a public mental health service in Australia in 1993. Her paper demonstrates her experience and I think articulates really clearly one of the key emerging issues for the peer workforce. Sandy calls it hybridisation and in particular the fact that often we don’t distinguish very clearly between consumer engagement and leadership and peer work:
‘…the mental health peer workforce has reached a new level of maturity, and now consists of two distinct but related disciplines. The discipline of consumer engagement and leadership; and the discipline of recovery peer work.’
Even more concerning is the lack of differentiation between peer workers and non-peer, community and or clinical mental health work. Sandy gives examples of this in her presentation.
“Some quick examples: a peer worker triaging consumers on the telephone line in a community managed service including calling the police on service users; peer workers conducting assessments and documenting these in the exact same way a community mental health worker in the service would conduct and document these assessments; accessing clinical files without the knowledge or the consent of any person for whom the clinical file pertains; sitting on treating teams and seeing themselves as part of the treating team; taking available community mental health worker shifts in the same service they are recruited in as peer workers because there isn’t enough peer worker hours and they want more work; sitting in on clinical changeover whilst clinicians discuss patients; peer workers talking about their caseloads and describing service users as their ‘clients’. Often this occurs with some vague sense of discomfort that something isn’t right, but no valid analysis follows.”
One solution to the role confusion is for anyone being recruited to a designated recovery peer work position to be recruited in light of the values of peer work:
“This is a new workforce and it is imperative that these values are used, rather than just the stock and standard values of the service, or of the other workforces. The values of peer work are fundamentally different to that of the mental health workforce, especially around the
concepts of equality, mutuality and reciprocity.”
I urge everyone to read Sandy’s paper in full. Her hand drawn cartoons are a delight.