Peer support skills

Both in formal and informal settings, peer supporters are generally expected to be skilled in communication, have the ability to listen actively and to utilise a problem-solving approach when discussing a peer’s issue. Taking part in a peer support program not only requires peer supporters to demonstrate a range of skills but will also, by their very participation, increase their skill base as they encounter a range of situations and issues when engaging with their peers.

Within training and supervision with youth peer supporters development of skills may need to focus on the following:1-6

Communication skills

  • Verbal communication
  • Written communication skills
  • Body language
  • Active listening
  • Possible barriers to communication
  • Basic counselling
  • How to provide information

Decision making skills

  • Conflict resolution
  • Decision making
  • Developing plans for the future

Professional conduct and demeanour

  • Legal considerations/ issues
  • Referral issues (knowing when and how to refer clients)
  • Confidentiality and boundaries
  • Team work (how to work effectively as a team)
  • Working independently
  • Duty of care
  • Occupational health and safety

Program knowledge

  • Beliefs, values and attitudes of the program
  • Program goals and objectives
  • Role description
  • How to access resources

Content knowledge

  • Health specific knowledge i.e. sexual health, drug and alcohol use, mental health, sexuality
  • Relevant referral service knowledge


Skills adapted from:

  1. Cowie, H., and P. Wallace. 2000. Peer support in action from bystanding to standing by. London: SAGE Publications
  2. Dennis, C. 2003. Peer support within a health care context: a concept analysis. International Journal of Nurse Study 40: 321-332.
  3. Freedom Centre. Volunteer Training 2007: Supporting the Health and Diversity of Young People’s Sexuality and Gender. 2007. Perth: Freedom Centre.
  4. Meehan, T., H. Bergen, C. Coveney, and R. Thornton. 2002. Development and evaluation of a training program in peer support for former consumers. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing 11: 34-39.
  5. Muirhead, P., G. Butcher, J. Rankin, and A. Munley. 2006. The effect of a programme of organised and supervised peer support on the initiation and duration of breastfeeding: a randomised trial. British Journal of General Practice 56: 191-197.
  6. World Health Organisation. 2005. Preventing chronic diseases: a vital investment. Geneva: World Health Organisation