What is Peer Support?
Peer support is when people connect with others over shared challenges and use their own experiences to help each other heal. Peer support is the answer to feeling isolated. It’s for anyone seeking validation and understanding (and also those who aren’t). Participating in peer support provides connection and support to help anyone on their emotional healing and growth journey
However, emotional growth isn’t where the benefits of peer support end. Studies have shown that being part of a peer support group can help people with depression find “significant improvement” in their resilience and overall mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, “Peers can offer their experience living with mental health challenges along with offering emotional support, share knowledge, teach skills, provide practical assistance and connect people with resources, opportunity, communities of support, and people.”
At ShareWell, we believe peer support should be accessible to all. Our mission is to promote overall wellness and mental health through connective peer support, at a time when we need it more than ever.
The first step in group sessions is really straightforward: participants share and listen in a system of giving and receiving. What comes after that initial jump is really special because peer support is about realizing you’re not alone and learning from a community. Your peers offer up their own experiences and a variety of perspectives, and you share your own, building trust, confidence, and your own well-being. It Makes Other Treatment More Effective Committing to and following through on a treatment plan can hinge directly on the support available. Being able to talk freely about your experience, gaining insight from the wisdom of others, and having an emotional connection to a larger community of patients and survivors can strengthen the resolve of a person who otherwise may feel isolated. If you are already working with a therapist or doctor or other mental health professional, peer support can be a powerful complement to your existing treatment plan.o positive change.
Benefits of Peer Support
Being able to openly share a difficult experience with people who have lived with and survived similar circumstances offers a unique combination of hope, strength and community. It’s also far from a rigid obligation, and while the benefits of peer support are clear, there’s plenty of flexibility for individuals. These aren’t strict clinical programs. You opt-in at your pace, at your comfort level, and with the amount of commitment you’re ready for.
You’re Not Alone
Recognizing a problem and deciding to address it can be aided by a peer who clearly sees an issue and can provide much needed motivation to seek help. Mental health and support through the lens of a clinician is observation and treatment, not participation. Your peers are in this with you. That level of support has measurable effects. Research shows that peer support can lead to fewer hospital stays, larger support networks, and better self-esteem, confidence, and social skills.
It Makes Other Treatment More Effective
Committing to and following through on a treatment plan can hinge directly on the support available. Being able to talk freely about your experience, gaining insight from the wisdom of others, and having an emotional connection to a larger community of patients and survivors can strengthen the resolve of a person who otherwise may feel isolated. If you are already working with a therapist or doctor or other mental health professional, peer support can be a powerful complement to your existing treatment plan.
It is Proven to Help in Recovery
Studies have shown peer support groups increase self-efficacy in those with chronic illness. For example, diabetes sufferers became better, more knowledgeable managers of their disease after participating in peer support groups. Stroke survivors placed in peer support networks and reintegrated into their communities reported more personal growth and enjoyment in their lives. A separate study determined cancer survivors similarly showed improved quality of life when connected with peer support. At ShareWell 90% of our members report being happier after a peer support session. It has immediate and long lasting benefits.
It Empowers You To Be Better
ShareWell wants to unlock all of these benefits for all of our peers. No matter who you are or at what stage of life you find yourself, peer support presents a path to recovery and help. There’s never a better time than now to give it a shot.
What is a Peer Support Host?
At ShareWell hosts are the heartbeat of our community. You don’t have to be an expert or have previous facilitation experience; hosts share their stories while actively encouraging and holding space for their peers to share.
Hosting is a lot easier than you think and can be a very powerful experience of helping others while healing yourself.
At ShareWell, we have much gratitude for our hosts. You receive our weekly Host newsletter, invites to private host sessions and online gatherings, plus opportunities to collaborate with other hosts. Everyone is equal at ShareWell, but we like to think of hosts as our community ambassadors. Our Host motto, “We rise by lifting others.”
What Does a Host Do?
- Hosts facilitate one to two peer support sessionsOnce you’ve created a session, great work, it’s time to spread the word and find others who are interested in your topic. We encourage hosts to do three things.the flow of the discussion.
- Hosts post on the discussion wall to share resources or spark conversation before/after their session.
- Hosts can go the extra mile (optional) by inviting people you know, or don’t, to join in the support.
Peer support hosts pick a topic they want to host around, for example, challenges like addiction, anxiety, depression, grief, trauma, divorce, relationship problems, and other mental health conditions. The only rule is you must have lived experience on the topic. Regardless of the topic, peer support hosts are most effective when they feel empowered to be vulnerable. At ShareWell, we ensure peer support sessions are filled exclusively with people who have similar experiences. Hosts guide everyone to talk, share, and listen without hierarchy or judgment, from your peers to your facilitator.
How to Post Your First Session
- Log into ShareWell
- Visit our HOST page in the navigation menu
- Click the blue (Create A Session) button in the top right
- Create a title & description for your session
- Choose your preferred day & time, & add a photo!
- Complete the steps & agree to our host guidelines
Pro Tip: Schedule your session at least one week out so more ShareWell users can see your session and join it.
How to Promote Your First Session
Once you’ve created a session, great work, it’s time to spread the word and find others who are interested in your topic. We encourage hosts to do three things.
- Fill out your profile with a short bio. Let people know a bit about your life experience and/or passion. Sharing some of your journey often makes others feel connected and compelled to join you.
- Post a session announcement in the Well discussion. When you click into the Well you will see the (Discussion) tab right next to the Session tab. Here are two announcement examples:
Hi ShareWell, I am excited to host my first session: (session name). I’m passionate about x…., because of y…. I hope you will join in the discussion.
Hi Peers, I just posted my very first session and am looking forward to supporting each other in (session name). I have facilitated discussions on this topic through my (personal experience/bio). I’m looking forward to meeting and supporting you in…..
- Share the session with your existing community. Whether it’s your social media following, email list, or simply good friends, sharing your session with your existing community is a great opportunity to offer support and connection to those you want to support or who have supported you.
ShareWell Best Practices
Start with Some Group Guidelines
Providing group guidelines at the start of a session is beneficial for three main reasons:
- It lays the ground rules for a safe space (always refer to the ShareWell ground rules at a minimum & add something on top if you like).
- It sets up expectations for everyone in the session.
- It clarifies what is or isn’t acceptable & can be helpful if you need to remind someone later that they are violating an established group guideline
Kick-off with a Short Introduction & an Open-Ended Question
Quickly share who you are and why you felt compelled to host your session.After you introduce yourself, it’s time to introduce the group through popcorn introductions. Peers can say their names, where they are from, and answer an open-ended question. Beginningyour session with an open-ended question for all participants can get them warmed up for sharing with each other. Consider asking about people’s experience with the topic, what drew them to this session, or what they’re hoping to get out of the session (if anything specific). This not only gets people talking, it also can lead to potential segues to deeper discussions. Less structure can be a good thing for sharing.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a minute-by-minute schedule! Having less structure can actually be conducive to participants feeling comfortable enough to share. Individuals may feel reluctant to “take up space” by giving a detailed response because they want to be respectful of others and don’t want to “hog the mic.” Knowing designated time is allocatedto discussion can help everyone feel more at ease about taking up airtime and sharing their thoughts and experiences. It also gives quieter participants more opportunities to speak up and assert themselves when it feels appropriate for them to do so.
Responses and Silences
It can be tempting to respond to each person who speaks in a group. This can make the speaker feel heard, but it can also make it hard for other group members to have space to respond. Try letting a few seconds of silence pass before you jump in: this could give other participants a chance to process and speak – they might respond and keep the conversation flowing naturally! Prolonged silence might feel awkward, but it doesn’t mean the session isn’t going well or isn’t helpful to the participants. It can be healing for people to sit in silence when they feel emotionally safe in a group. Group silence creates a nice pause for people to think and process what has been discussed.
Inviting Quieter Participants to Speak Up
Sometimes there are more vocal participants and more reserved participants. If you’re looking to engage your quieter participants, you can direct the conversation towards them by inviting them to contribute, such as, “For those who haven’t shared much today, what is it like for you to be in this session today?” In smaller, more intimate conversations, you can invite someone to share their thoughts directly, if they feel comfortable doing so.
ShareWell Sample Agenda & Scripts
Here’s a standard Host session outline:
Meeting Guidelines (1 min)
Host Introduction (1 min)
Opening Question (5 min)
Sharing and Support (20 – 80min depending on session length)
Closing Gratitude (3 min)
Hi, my name is… + I am hosting because…
Meeting Groundrules Script
Go through the guidelines below & get a verbal or hand-raise agreement.
- I commit to having lived experience: Have we all had experience with ___x___? If so, please raise your hand. If you can’t raise your hand, we ask you to choose another session to attend in which you have lived experience.
- I commit to avoid giving advice: We are here to share our experience, not our advice. This is a peer support session, not group therapy. We are here to listen to each other, support each other, and learn from each other, but we are not in a place to give advice or to diagnose.
- I commit to confidentiality: Are we in agreement that what is shared in a session is private information and stays in this session? Can we also commit to being respectful and compassionate at all times?
Ex. Can everyone agree to this? Raise of hands. Thank you
Opening Question Scripts
Begin by having everyone share their name, where they are from, and their answer to a question related to your session topic. This should be a quick prompt; a 1-10 rating, yes/no, or short answer. The goal is to get everyone to use their voice. Ex. I would love to start with a check-in. Let’s popcorn around the group and share our name, where we’re joining from, and how our anxiety levels are this week…
Sample opening questions:
- Share how you’re feeling in three words. Ex. excited, stressed, tense.
- What drew you to this session today?
- Briefly share your experience with the topic…
- What are you hoping to get out of the session (if anything specific)
- How are you and your mental health this week?
There is no right or wrong way to respond to the sharing and support portion, but we do have a few tips. The key is affirmation and validation. Affirmation is words that confirm, support, uplift, and empathize with another person in a positive manner, while validation is helping someone feel that their thoughts, feelings, and experiences have been heard and are valid- even if you disagree.
After a peer shares, let others comment, give affirmation, share support, or share resources that worked for them. What this can look like:
- “Thank you for sharing Olivia.”
- “I can really relate, Olivia, I also… (opportunity to share your own
- Thanks, Olivia. Have you heard of ? resource____, It really helped me on my journey.”
- “That sounds difficult Olivia, I can understand how you could feel that way”
If it’s silent after a share, feel free to step in as the host and give an affirmation of your own.
Closing Gratitude Scripts
“Thank everyone for attending this session. I appreciate you sharing your story, your wisdom, and support. My heart was feelling low today and now my heart is feeling full. Does anyone else want to share some closing thoughts or gratitude for the group?”
“Thank everyone for attending this session. I appreciate you sharing your story, your wisdom, and support. I also want to appreciate and acknowledge (specific moment within group). Does anyone else want to share additional appreciation for our session today?”
“Thank you for attending today. I am truly grateful for the experience and want to encourage everyone to take one action, one thing they are going to do before the next session to further their growth/healing– even if it’s just committing to attending another peer-support session. I welcome anyone to share their commitment with the group.”
Become a Peer Support Host Today!
If you have any questions, please reach out to Amy, our Head of Community, at email@example.com she’s here to help.