Supporting the peer supporters

The recruitment, training and support of peer volunteers/supporters/leaders has been commonly reported as an issue of relevance among program facilitators.

It has been questioned how much information about a young person is necessary in order to appropriately assess the suitability of a young person to become a peer supporter. Factors such as previous mental health issues, the current mental state and a young person’s motivations may determine their appropriateness for the role. However, the program facilitators’ experiences reflect that assigning the role of a peer volunteer/supporter to a young person in an unstable condition can have both positive and negative impacts on the person as well as the group. For example, it can help the young person to feel empowered, increase their social skills and contact and therefore increase their mental well-being; however, if the young person’s condition is too severe they may not be in the position to provide sufficient support for other participants. Initial training and ongoing support are therefore vital elements of a peer support program.


  • Incorporating interview processes allow the program facilitator to obtain a better picture of the young person and to determine their suitability  to take on the role of a peer supporter.
  • Ongoing provision of professional support from professionals and supervision of volunteers is necessary in order to ensure growth and development of a young person and that they are able to handle difficult situations they might experience effectively even if they appear to be in a stable condition already. Continuous debriefing sessions to discuss the processes and finding solutions to issues encountered may be a possible strategy if relevant to the particular group and the activity. Supervision sessions are also recommended as they assist to keep the volunteers on track by setting goals and providing instructions.
  • Acceptance as a peer volunteer can be particularly positive for young people who may have their own issues to deal with – it can send a very positive message of acceptance and value of the young person’s qualities. While this is true it must be remembered that a peer volunteer requires professional supervision and support and this cannot cross the line into a counselling relationship.
  • To avoid that young people feel they are being abandoned as they age out of the program clearly defined pathways need to be outlined of which young people should be informed prior to joining the program. Provision of referral to other programs that fit the young person’s needs more appropriately is a strategy that may be useful to not abandon participants.

Read more about recruitment of volunteers/peer supporters.

Read more about supervision and support for volunteers/peer supporters.