Studies confirm that peer work is an evidence-based practice and that peer worker provided, recovery-oriented mental health services are highly valued by the people who use them and produce outcomes as good as and, in some cases, superior to, services from non–peer professionals.
To date we have a growing body of evidence that supports the value of peer workers in mental health services and systems. In an historical overview of the evidence base for peer support, Lyn Legere describes these developments in three waves.
The first wave of research and evaluation focused on peer support in mainstream mental health organisations and sought to explore whether there was any risk associated with peer support for those using the services. The research findings from four randomised controlled trials conducted during the 1990s established equivalent outcomes for people receiving services from both peer workers and non– peer workers. Two of the studies showed slightly better outcomes for people who received support from peer workers in addition to usual care compared with those who only received usual care.
The second wave accepted that there was no risk of harm from using workers with lived experience and looked more closely at the benefits of peer work, comparing employees who had openly identified psychiatric histories with those who did not. Both groups functioned in conventional roles such as case managers, rehabilitation staff and outreach workers. Again, most studies found that workers with lived experience functioned at least as well in their roles as other staff, and had comparable outcomes.
The third wave of research and evaluation now occurring focuses more specifically on the differences between peer and non-peer supports in relation to service system outcomes, people’s experience of distress and subjective experiences of receiving peer support.