Peer support

What is it?

Peer support programs recognise that individuals experience times of stress in which they sometimes need the support of a friend or a peer. They provide an early intervention strategy by normalising the process of seeking help for distress.1

How does it work?

Peer support uses peers as support agents or ‘friends’ who are trained to provide social and emotional assistance and to create a safe and trusting environment.2

Peer support may also occur between non-trained peers, e.g. between the visitors of a program.

Peer support programs aim to enhance self-esteem and self-efficacy and coping and problem-solving skills.3-5

Common ways peer support is used

A range of program types exist, including:

  • drop-in spaces;
  • peer support groups;
  • skills-development programs;
  • weekend camps or retreats;
  • self help groups; and
  • peer educator training programs.

Peer support programs may take place in one-on-one sessions as well as in groups.3-5

Peer support can occur:

  1. between the group of peers facilitating a program;
  2. within the group making use of the service; and
  3. between the users and the peer facilitators.3-5

Peer support may form one part of an overall program (e.g. as part of a peer education-based program that simultaneously uses peer support to create safe environments), or may function as a program of its own (e.g. peers are trained to provide the role of a friend).3-5

Peer support is commonly applied as a strategy to support young people experiencing adverse situations or circumstances, for examople young people with diverse sexuality and gender, teenage mothers, young people living with a chronic illness, children of parents with a mental illness, and as an early intervention for mental health issues including suicide prevention and substance misuse.5

Examples of peer support program approaches

Youth Focus – Peer Support Program

Inspire – Reach Out Australia

Freedom Centre – Peer Support Program

Youth Forum – Peer Support Organization

Directions Youth Services Centre – Peer Support Program

Bay Area Young Positives


  1. Turner, G 1999, ‘Peer support and young people’s health’, Journal of Adolescence, vol. 22, no. 4, pp. 567-72.
  2. Cowie, H & Wallace, P 2000, ‘Peer Support in Action’, Sage Publications, London, pp.176.
  3. Burmaster, E 2002, Youth to Youth: A review of peer program theoretical underpinnings, forms, functions, and process- and outcome-related findings 2001-02. A literature review, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
  4. Doull, M, O’Connor, A, Robinson, V, Tugwell, P & Wells, G 2005, ‘Peer support strategies for improving the health and well-being of individuals with chronic diseases’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, vol. 1.
  5. Svenson, GR 1998, ‘European guidelines for youth AIDS peer education’, ed. Department of Community Medicine. Lund University & The European Commission, Malmo, Sweden.