Accelerating Best Practices in Peer Support Around the World

Program Development Guide

Defining Peer Support

Chapter 1 Navigation

1. Defining Peer Support

2. Models of Peer Support

3. What Support Looks Like


Defining Peer Support

Ongoing support is a key factor for managing health. It has been shown to be a critical and effective strategy for health care and sustained behavior change for people with, or at risk for, chronic diseases and other conditions. People need practical, social, and emotional support to manage and maintain good behaviors for health.

Peers – people sharing similar experiences or backgrounds – can be great sources of support for one another. Unlike many health workers, people who provide peer support (known as peer supporters) are in a unique position because they share knowledge and experiences of a health condition or disease diagnosis. Peer support relies on non-hierarchical, reciprocal relationships, which provide a flexible supplement to formal health system services. In addition, peer support fosters understanding and trust of health care professionals among groups who otherwise may be alienated from or have poor access to health care.

Peer support is frequent, ongoing, accessible and flexible. Depending on social and cultural contexts as well as population characteristics, it can take many forms – phone calls, text messaging, group meetings, home visits, going for walks together, and even grocery shopping. Peer support complements and enhances other health care services by creating the emotional, social and practical assistance necessary for managing a disease and staying healthy.

Check out this video of Peers for Progress, What is Peer Support? where global experts explain why peer support is important to the present and future of chronic disease self-management, prevention, and health.


4 Key Functions

Figure 1: Four key functions of peer support

Peer support has FOUR key functions:

Assistance in daily management – Peer supporters use their own experiences with diet, physical activity and medicine adherence in helping people figure out how to manage their chronic diseases and other conditions in their daily lives.

Social and emotional support – Through empathetic listening and encouragement, peer supporters can help individuals to cope with social or emotional barriers and to stay motivated to reach their goals.

Linkages to clinical care and community resources – Peer supporters can help bridge the gap between the individuals and health professionals and encourage them to seek out clinical advice or treatments when it is appropriate. They can also help in identifying key resources in the community, such as where to buy healthy foods, or pleasant and convenient locations for exercise.

Ongoing support, extended over time – Peer supporters successfully keep individuals engaged by providing proactive, flexible, and continual long-term follow-up.


“Standardization by Function, Not by Content”

Peer support is as old as humankind. It has been widely adapted as a key strategy for health promotion, behavioral change and maintenance. In both research and practice, peer support has helped to address challenges in community health, behavioral health, diabetes, HIV, asthma etc. However, there is no “one size fits all” approach for peer support around the world. Self-care behaviors (e.g., eating patterns) and preferred styles of support (e.g., eye contact) are fundamentally dependent on culture. Through the work of Peers for Progress, it is impossible to define or promote peer support based on a single peer support product or program. Rather, Peers for Progress focuses on a set of four functional components of peer support (known as the FOUR key functions in this section) that can serve as the foundation for both research and program development.

To learn more about Peers for Progress and concept of standardization by function rather than by content, click here


Benefits of PS


Peers for Progress: Promoting Peer Support for Health Around the World This describes the needs for peer support and defines what it is through the four key functions.
2011 PfP SBM Symposium on Peer Support across Cultural National and Organizational Settings: Common Functions and Setting-Specific Features Several presentations examine common peer support functions and their application across cultural, national, and organizational settings among several peer support program case examples.
What is Peer Support? In this video, an international assembly of medical and public health experts explain why peer support is important to the present and future of chronic disease self-management, prevention, and health.
Tell Your Story – Personal Accounts of Peer Support This document features a selection of personal stories about individual and collective impact of peer support shared by of peer supporters, program staff, and recipient of peer support around the world.

© 2021 | Peers for Progress

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