The Fundamental Value of Presence in Peer and Mutual Support: Observations from Telephone Support for High Risk Groups
Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice. 2020;11(3),1-20. [Full Article]
Fisher EB, Tang PT, Evans M, Bhushan N, Graham MA, Dreyer Valovcin D, Castellano C
“Being there” takes on considerable importance amidst recognition of the substantial deleterious effects of social isolation and loneliness. In particular, presence/ “being there” may be important features of the many contributions of peer and mutual support to health and wellbeing. This study examined how peer support may enhance a sense of presence based on a) contact data for years 2015-2016 from telephonic peer support services of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, and b) structured interviews with peer supporters and clients of these programs. Features of peer support that convey presence include a) 24/7 availability, b) structure of peer support around shared cultural roles – e.g., “Cop2Cop,” “Mom2Mom,” rather than shared diagnoses, c) training of supporters to provide a setting for open expression of feelings, and d) structural features such as IT systems that facilitate continuity by enabling those answering a call readily to refer to previous calls. Impacts include client reports of being understood, not being judged, and being cared for through routine follow-up, even though contact such as voicemails. Managers and peer supporters should recognize the diverse organizational and processes that convey presence/ “being there” and its central importance in peer and mutual support.