What to expect when preparing for ―and participating in ―a peer support session varies by person and the issues they want help with. But let’s put your mind at ease: no matter who you are, there are some helpful things to consider before your first (and maybe your second and third) session.
Remember the goal
Seeking peer support is grounded in wanting to experience a change for the better. Whether it’s achieving sobriety, finding relief from mental illness, or understanding your emotions, people participate in various peer support forums with a pretty universal goal: improving how they feel.
Whatever the specific need, it’s important to keep that in mind when joining in a session. Getting help isn’t simple or straightforward; keeping your ultimate goals top of mind can keep the process on track and focused.
Find a setting that feels right
Peer support comes in many forms: individual or group sessions, informal or more formal atmospheres, face-to-face or virtual. Putting thought into finding the environment that best suits your needs and personality will help maximize the peer support experience you get.
If you know you need a one-on-one conversation to feel comfortable and open up, don’t start out meeting with a large group that might feel a little intimidating.
Take a look inward at your needs and preferences and let them guide the support you seek.
At ShareWell, our virtual sessions provide a comfortable group environment for novices nervous about joining in-person, or peer support regulars looking to branch out into new communities.
Participate in a group setting at your own pace
There are common fears about peer groups and what’s expected. It’s ok to be uncertain about how a peer support dynamic will function when it’s a brand new experience.
Will you have to share your story right away? Is participation required? Is the conversation confidential?
Not every peer group is the same, and they all have their own approaches based on the collective needs of the people who join, the issues they discuss, the size of the group, and more.
But peer support groups are places of genuine patience and understanding, where participants are welcome to share at their own pace and comfort level. Remember, it’s a group of peers, who have struggled with similar issues in their life, who can relate to each other about the anxieties and difficulties of asking for help, and seeking support.
Joining a group does require a commitment to being respectful of other people’s stories, and not sharing the sensitive nature of the conversation with people from outside the group. It’s also important that a participant is willing to be truthful with the group, and open to the experience.
It takes preparation to experience improvement
Maximizing a peer support experience can take a little bit of work, both in finding a resource that fits and doing the necessary self reflection to bring honesty and openness to the session. But that work can really pay off and make peer support more emotionally satisfying and personally transformative. Just think about that goal of feeling better — a little bit of preparation can go a long way to achieving that.