Allan Pinches: Consumer-collaborative research as a key enabler for peer support -- Mind Colloquium video September 2012.
Research Report: Putting the Community into Community Care Unit
A new consumer-led research report on Peer Support offers a “Rich Knowledge Resource.” – By Allan Pinches
Consumer Consultant Allan Pinches was the Principal Researcher for the 16-month project, which
was funded by a Department of Health Victoria Mental Health and Drugs Research Fellowship Grant.
The main purpose of the project was to research and develop ways to build a possible Peer Support program and culture into the Northern Community Care Unit (CCU), a 20-resident adult psychiatric rehab service in Preston.
The project, as shown in various ways in the final report, resulted in a clear consensus among CCU
consumer participants and expert project consumer co-facilitators, that a Peer Support Program and
the employment of a Peer Support Worker (or workers) was likely to be beneficial to consumers.
This trend was confirmed by the favourable results of the formal Evaluation forms after the three
Peer Education Sessions of the trialling stage.
While discussions took place about ways that a peer support program could be developed at the Northern CCU, the highly participatory project workshops generated a rich knowledge resource, in
which consumers identified a myriad of ways that peer support could “make a difference” –
whereby friendship and mutual support could help fulfil a range of needs, hopes, states of health
and wellbeing, participation in the community, empowerment, and progress towards personal
Resident/ consumers could be encouraged to share coping strategies, lessons/ insights
from life, information about opportunities in the community and actively supporting each other inexploring options.
A range of possible structures and processes emerged from consumer discussions towards a multifaceted Peer Support Program at Northern CCU, including the employment of a Peer Support
Worker (or workers.)
This was partly based on a review of notable examples of the increasing number of articles about peer support as a form of paid service provision within mental health services, including some key consumer “grey literature” materials.
Supplementing this was some networking with local consumer movement knowledge holders.
The research project recognised the importance of ensuring that any Peer Support Worker (or workers) should actively engage with the resident/ consumers on site, and encourage them to share their experiences, lessons from life, insights, problem solving, the values of friendship and mutual support, and sharing knowledge and strategies about pathways towards personal recovery.
Collaboration between PSWs, consumers and program staff is seen as important.
Part of the rationale for the project was a widespread consumer movement belief that peer support often has a natural tendency to spring up among consumers in service settings, and that adding
consumer leadership, structures and resources could greatly amplify the benefits of such
"... peer support often has a natural tendency to spring up among consumers in service settings, and... adding consumer leadership, structures and resources could greatly amplify the benefits of such interactions."
Another major part of the rationale was the apparent “gap” that while PDRSSs (Psychiatric Disability Rehabilitation and Support Services) receive some government funding to provide peer support programs and peer workers, clinical services do not, at this stage receive funding for peer support.
Recent policy statements suggest this may change in the medium term.
One message that comes through strongly in the Northern CCU project is that there is an abundance of ways that peer support could be beneficial to consumers and so many ways that it can increase the effective reach, degree of meaningfulness and diversity of responses that could be offered to consumers of mental health services. Peer support addresses a different and more personalised domain of the consumer’s life, compared to standard mental health treatment and care, but both service types can co-exist.
In the six specially themed project workshops and the three Peer Education Sessions of the trialling stage, participants discussed in creative workshop sessions with the Principal Researcher and a number of eminent consumer co-facilitators, many possible elements of a dedicated multi-faceted Peer Support Program for the Northern CCU. The participants became increasingly enthusiastic, creative and conversant with the possibilities of peer support.
The project maintained a clear and conscientious dedication to its consumer-collaborative Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology, with every effort to maximise consumer participation and the wisdom and insights that can flow from consumer perspective discussions.
In many ways, the PAR methodology was worthy of being highlighted as a project outcome in itself, because of the inclusive quality of consumer discussion, good feelings, and the articulation it promoted.
Articles will be written up for journal articles and conference presentations as part of the funding agreement. It is hoped that an on the ground peer support program will grow out of this project at Northern CCU and maybe beyond.
The research project was carried out under the auspices of the Northern CCU, which is part of the
Northern AMHS. The Northern AMHS Clinical Director Assoc. Prof. Suresh Sundram and Darebin
Community Mental Health Service Manager, Ms Christine Hodge were Supervisor/ Co-Researchers
for the Project.
The project went through the extensive ethics approval processes with the Mental
Health Research and Ethics Committee (Melbourne Health). An Executive Steering Committee also
supported the project and an eminent group of Consumer Co-facilitators assisted in scoping and running the workshop sessions. A total of nine Northern CCU resident/ consumers participated, to
The research report contains a number of easily navigated sections, drawn from creative discussions
with Northern CCU consumers, with the potential to be built upon in a myriad of ways. This includes:
Recommendations about a range of initiatives towards a multi-faceted Peer Support Program and
culture at Northern CCU, and with possible wider application across other services. This has yet to
"The project maintained a clear and conscientious dedication to its consumer-collaborative Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology, with every effort to maximise consumer participation and the wisdom and insights that can flow from consumer perspective discussions."
A model for a Peer Support Program, under four sub-headings: (1) Peer education and support
groups; (2) Foundational consumer participation activities; (3) Systemic advocacy, relationship
building and shared learning with staff; (4) Consumers to support each other exploring options
and getting more involved with the community.
A Literature Review covered many recent developments and key debates in mental health peer
support, based on growing numbers of articles, conference presentations, mental health service models, and consumer “grey literature”. This was intended to help provide a baseline for
developing a model.
Augmented information came from networking with local consumer experts, and key peer
support related organisations and individual “knowledge holders” were consulted to help create
a base for thinking about the possible shape of peer support models at the Northern CCU.
Edited highlights of the six Creative workshop discussions among consumers and the three
trialling stage Peer Education Sessions – provide a wealth of consumer perspective thinking about
needs identification, peer support as part problem solving and creative building of life options.
These sections are filled with interesting and compelling quotes and form a valuable knowledge
resource within the already valuable report.
Some special subjects were: Defining peer support and the peer support happening informally;
leadership and possible role and duties of peer workers; peer support and the search for personal
recovery; peer support and building bridges back into the wider community; and meaningful
activity, education and employment…and much more.
The author thanks www.mindaustralia.org.au and www.Ourconsumerplace.com.au for the media materials made available for this posting.