A day in the life of a Peer Support Worker
Published on: 15th May 2021
We hear from two of our Peer Support Workers to find out what a day in the life of a PSW entails and why they love their role. Andy and Darcey have lived experience of mental health and they use these experiences to support and build connections with service users.
A day in the life of a Peer Support Worker – Andy's experience
It really isn't a long walk from having your own lived experience of mental health services to becoming a volunteer within LPFT, or to taking one more step and exploring the possibility of becoming a Peer Support Worker. When I first thought of applying for the role I needed support and encouragement from family and friends. I can honestly say it's the most rewarding job I've ever had.
The day to day role can be varied - from wellbeing phone calls and wider team meetings, to peer support group work and one-to-one conversations and support. During the recent lockdowns, the one-to-one contact has proven invaluable in reducing isolation. As part of my role at Louth CMHT, I have focused on continuing regular one-to-one socially distanced walks for those who wanted them. Whilst walking and talking is a non-clinical intervention, it has a strong evidence base of improving and supporting good mental and emotional wellbeing. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) researched and developed what it calls 'The Five Ways to Wellbeing' - a set of evidence-based, everyday actions that can boost our wellbeing. Walking, whilst deceptively simple, meets at least three of them! From my perspective as a Peer Support Worker it helps us 'connect', 'be active' and to 'take notice'.
Connection is vital in the Peer Support role and to me it is the foundation stone. Using our lived experience, we can connect through building trust, sharing experience and showing that hope and recovery is possible. When someone feels isolated, misunderstood or is lacking in connections and social networks, a Peer Support Worker can provide connection and contact, often acting as a useful bridge within services and support. When not in lockdown, group walks have grown friendships and understanding which enrich lives.
Being active helps our mental wellbeing and even a gentle stroll can make us feel good, regardless of our mobility or fitness level. I find walking and talking can be easier than sitting and talking. Something that I've found as a parent is that 'sideways conversations' can avoid the intensity and potential awkwardness of eye-to-eye contact, and allow people to feel safe, less scrutinised and more likely to open up. I often take my dog Pippi, normalising the walk as an everyday thing that many of us do in our daily life. Taking notice of our surroundings, such as the changing seasons, is easy on a walk, whether we are walking in a familiar area or exploring somewhere new.
For me, the support and connection forged as a Peer Support Worker is two-way and the opportunity to have open, honest conversations about mental health in a normal everyday setting somehow seems to work. The one-to-one walks and group walks offer mutual support and a shared understanding, and in the weekly support group meetings which I organise (now done virtually but post-COVID will be face-to-face again), people ask about each other, talk about what they've done and how they've felt. This helps with finding a real connection and sense of support.
As a Peer Support Worker, I have my own lived experience of mental health, aspects of which still challenge me on a daily basis. As well as offering support and a safe space to talk for those in the group, I now understand the value and power of mutual aid. Since beginning a new career as a Peer Support Worker I have gained in so many ways, increasing my self-confidence and self-worth in knowing that what I do is valued and respected, both by service users as well as by the team of passionate, committed and caring colleagues I work alongside.
A Day in the Life of a Peer Support Worker in CAMHS - Darcey's story
Being a Peer Support Worker (PSW) in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) means no two days are ever the same. I normally start my day by checking emails and messages on Microsoft Teams. Usually, I’d catch up with colleagues in the morning whilst making a coffee but Teams is good for now! I reply to my messages and then write a ‘to do’ list – a lot can happen in a day at CAMHS, so I find it helpful to lay out what needs doing and when. After I’ve checked and responded to messages, I start on some admin and project work which will normally include writing letters to send to service users, creating resources and uploading clinical notes to RiO (our clinical system).
I would then prepare for my first session of the day. During our appointment, we may share coping strategies and lived experience, help the young person to attend group therapy and with transitions out of the service or to another service, and work together on resources like the resilience and wellness plans. After my session, I will write the clinical notes and write any letters or make any phone calls as required. I will also liaise with the lead professional working alongside the young person to ensure any updates are discussed. It’s also really important as a PSW that we “debrief” after any tricky appointments. Due to the nature of our role, we sometimes have more disclosures made to us and speaking to the lead professional is good to help with the emotionally challenging parts of an appointment.
In a general week, Peer Support Workers will attend team and other clinical meetings where we discuss cases. It’s good to attend meetings to understand any updates within the service and any potential new referrals to peer support. As a Peer Support Worker you may also help run groups, the majority of which are currently provided online. We also do a lot of mental health promotion events, which are a great way to get previous or current service users’ views on how to improve services, learn more about the field of mental health, and celebrate all the amazing work done by CAMHS and other organisations.
We may have multiple appointments with young people each day so organisation is key! I keep my online and paper diaries synced so I can book my time effectively each day. Before COVID-19 restrictions, PSWs may also be out of the office having appointments within the community, if it would benefit the service user. We may also work with the other teams to deliver joint appointments to young people and their families.
Being a Peer Support Worker with CAMHS is so much fun and incredibly rewarding. I hope I’ve given you a brief insight into what it’s like and we hope to see some of you apply soon!
To find out what it's like to work for us, visit our recruitment webpages at www.lpft.nhs.uk/work-for-us