Peer Support Workers

Peer Support Workers

A Peer Support Worker is someone who has lived experience of their own health challenges and is at a point in their journey where they can use these experiences to support people (peers) who are at a different stage in their recovery/life journey.

A Peer Support Worker supports the peers they are working alongside to take (or take back) control of their lives, focusing on their strengths and inviting them to explore what a meaningful life looks like to them while managing their ongoing health challenges.

By using their own lived experience to support others, Peer Support Workers promote hope and role model that recovery* is not only real, but possible.

*It is important to note that not everyone will identify with the term 'recovery'. People will make sense of their experiences in their own ways. Please see 'What is recovery?' below for more information. 

What is peer support?

What is peer support?

New to mental health, but not new to other health fields, the role of the peer support worker (PSW) is to increase hope and engagement by the power of “having been there” with similiar experiences. Hope is central to the belief required for people who experience mental and/or physical health challenges and forms an important part in supporting people’s recovery journey. PSWs are able to model recovery and hold the hope for peers, even when peers may not be in a place where they’re able to feel hopeful for themselves.

The ethos of peer support:

  • Inspiring hope and optimism

  • Empathy

  • Mutuality

    • Equals and co-learners
    • Both have something to give and learn from each other
    • Don’t try to fix or direct one another
    • May partner on action plans and collaborate on solutions
    • Sometimes just listen, be with and bear witness
  • Have mutual responsibility for the relationship
  • Friendship - but peer support is an intentional friendship

Peer workers need to be able to:

  • Hold the hope for a person receiving services and believe in their potential and strengths
  • Value every peer as a unique human being
  • Accept peers where they are at
  • Listen non-judgmentally to experiences of peers
  • Encourage people to make their own choices
  • Trust the authenticity of a peer’s personal experiences
  • Express a genuine concern for a peer’s well-being
  • Be dedicated to promoting recovery opportunities in the lives of peers
  • Be able to utilise one's own lived experiences of recovery to inspire recovery in the lives of others

Support available for PSWs:

  • Preceptorship programme during their first year in post
  • Group supervision with other PSWs
  • 3-monthly Peer Professional Forums
  • Managerial supervision with line manager in team
  • Reflective practice sessions in the Trust

How do I book a place on the Peer Education Programme (PEP)?

For further information, please contact:

The Peer Support Development Team
RCE Wellbeing Hub

What is recovery?

What is recovery?

Recovery means different things to different people, but in mental health the term “recovery” is about building a meaningful and satisfying life in the presence or absence of symptoms or challenges. Recovery is a movement away from diagnosis, illness, and symptoms, to health, strengths, and wellness. These simple concepts are a radical challenge to existing mental health service provision and to the wider society in general. 

The notion of recovery holds within it complex concepts. People do not recover in isolation, but are connected through social inclusion (i.e.: employment, housing, community connections and involvement), empowerment and self-awareness. These ideas can be challenging to service providers, carers, families, friends, and the wider society. Recovery is:

  • Living a life beyond distress
  • Defined by the person themselves and will look different to each person
  • A process, a way of life, an attitude, and a way of approaching the day’s challenges
  • Not about the elimination of distress; it is much broader.
  • Allowing people to make sense of their own experiences and find the perspective that makes the most sense to them (that includes not embracing the concept of recovery if it doesn’t marry up with your perspective of your own experiences)

How did peer support start within CPFT?

Developed in Arizona, USA by Recovery Innovations (now RI International) to provide individual and hospital-based peer support.
group image

In 2010 CPFT made a firm commitment to create a critical mass of peer workers by ensuring that a significant proportion of our staff are peer workers and experts by experience. We worked alongside Recovery Innovations to deliver our initial Peer Worker Training Programme. Since then we have trained thirteen cohorts of peer workers establishing peer worker roles on wards and in community locality teams across the Trust.

Our achievements

  • Delivered 13 cohorts of training (due to deliver cohort 14 in spring 2021)
  • Training is usually delivered through Recovery College East in Cambridge and Peterborough. In 2021 training will be delivered online
  • Training has been accredited at Level 4 with the Open College Network (OCN)
  • Following successful graduation from the training, peer workers have been able to apply for posts within CPFT
  • The posts are available in younger people’s services, adult services, and older people’s services, both on our wards and in the community
  • Our vision is to have peer workers in all service areas
  • Peer worker posts offer a range of vacancies that provide a few hours work up to full time work
  • Successfully graduated 180 students from the training since 2010
  • Offered employment to more than 80 of these graduates
  • Awarded “demonstration site” status with the Implementing Recovery through Organisational Change (ImROC) programme
  • Assisted many other organisations in their own peer worker developments

What next for CPFT?

  • Cohorts 12 and 13 completed their training and graduated in 2019
  • Further cohort planned online for spring 2021
  • Continue to create peer worker posts
  • Increasing openness and delivering structural change within the Trust
  • Working collaboratively to deliver recovery and social inclusion within services
  • Recovery learning and networking with wider organisations
  • Continue to challenge stigma of mental health issues
  • Promote the recovery ethos

Our peer support workers

The work of peer support workers

See on the main web page above a short film on “The work of peer workers” created by Henry Shepherd, peer worker.  If you are unable to use Vimeo, the video is also available on YouTube by clicking here.
(Our video works best in Google Chrome rather than Internet Explorer.)

RAND summary on the PEP project

RAND has published a two-page executive summary on CPFT's PEP project.  To read the summary, see the link below.

Evaluation of the peer worker programme at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (

Peer support champions in Uganda

A short film has been published about mental health peer support in Uganda from those who provide it and receive it.  Mike Ilamyo was commissioned to create this film for the Butabika-East London Link and Heartsounds Uganda. You can view the film here.

Other recovery projects

Other CPFT recovery focused projects/activities include the following:

Useful websites

Our website has pages on recovery topics and peer employment information, but other useful links are:

As a patient

As a patient, relative or carer using our services, sometimes you may need to turn to someone for help, advice, and support. 

Patient Advice and Liaison service  Contact the Trust