The Power of Peer Support

At Maryknoll, Grampians and Barwon TCs, Peer Support Workers draw on lived experience to support people during rehabilitation. Kate – who was Peer Support Worker at Grampians before moving into an Aftercare role – tells us about her journey and the significance of Peer Support at Windana.

An illustration of two people reaching out to each other over a barrier. Quote alongside reads “It’s the human experience and need for connection that unites everybody.” Text beneath the quote reads: A story about Peer Support with Kate from the Grampians TC team. “Peer Support creates a genuine relationship based on trust and hope, without judgement and expectation” says Kate.

“There’s space just to spend time.”

The Peer Support Worker role at Windana’s TCs is incredibly varied. Each role is built around a person’s strengths, interests and personality. Peer Support Workers run structured groups (Art Therapy, Non-Violent Communication and strategies for coping with triggers, just to name a few), and work with residents in the TC’s day-to-day activities. This includes helping out in the Works Programs, taking people to appointments, being present in groups and encouraging the community to look after each other.

Peer Support Workers work within the ‘Community as Method’ model used at Windana’s TCs – where the community itself – through self-help and mutual support – is what sparks change in residents’ lives. Peer Support both adds to and helps facilitate the work, therapy, education and health components of the TC program.

Working alongside residents, Peer Support Workers impart snippets of advice that have worked for them.

“A Peer Support Worker may have professional qualifications, but their role is purely based on having lived experience and being further along in recovery than the residents” explains Kate.

So, what helps a Peer Support Worker connect with a resident?

Kate says that being non-judgemental is paramount. As is respect.

“We recognise that people have made a courageous decision to seek help,” says Kate. “This courage deserves respect.”

Peer Support Workers also ensure people to take responsibility for their own paths.

“People are the experts in their own lives” says Kate. “It’s their own personal experiences, learnings and revelations that are important.”

There also needs to be some fun.

“A sense of humour is required, I’m quite silly! Humour is a quality that gives people an avenue to relax. There has to be some joy along the way!

“In the end it seems it’s the human experience and need for connection that unites everybody.”

Over the years, Kate’s personal journey has led her to become a “safe person who’s ‘been there’, who residents know will listen.”

“When I arrived at Windana’s Maryknoll TC as a resident in 1998, I had no understanding of why I used drugs, how I got to be in the position of not managing my life, or how to change it.

“By the time I left, I understood myself more, and I knew I wanted to be one of those people who had helped me.

“I had immense respect for people who were successfully operating in the world one year, two years and five years without using substances… I wanted to know the ‘thing’ that they knew.”

This ‘thing’ encompassed questions about how to just be, without the need for distraction, how to identify feelings, how to respond to them, how to forgive and how to let go.

In time, Kate became a Peer Support Worker at Windana’s Grampians TC.

“It was the first time I’ve landed a job for openly discussing my drug using history!” Kate says.

She describes it as a privileged position, being able to draw on lived experience to help others.

Often people arrive at the TC alone, broken and mistrusting. Kate says it’s rewarding to see supportive relationships form at lightning speed.

“Self-esteem blossoms, and residents gain respect through their roles in the community – including through senior positions like Team Leader, Duty Worker and Resident Manager.”

Peer Support Workers are fundamental to TC life, and to Windana’s culture.

“There was a particular moment when a resident and I were preparing lunch,” Kate says.

“She asked me ‘what is your actual role here anyway?’

“I said ‘I dunno, I just hang out with you. I don’t pass on any information unless it seems harmful to you or someone else.’

“That was enough for this woman to talk about things that weren’t necessarily relevant to Key Workers, but she still wanted to share.

It was really special to have a private conversation with trust.

“A shared moment!”

Useful resources

SHARC Victorian AOD Peer Workforce Community of Practice (COP)
Offering networking, information exchange, professional development, consultation and feedback to all paid peer workers in Victoria.

DirectLine
Alcohol and other drug counselling and referrals. DirectLine is a first step for getting support and referrals to Windana and other services around Victoria.
PH: 1800 888 236 (24/7)

Learn more about Peer Support Groups
A page on DirectLine’s website with information about and links to AOD Peer Support groups. Most groups are open to anyone. Some groups are only open to group members or clients of a particular service.