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Definitions and Examples of Peer Work

[Peer Group] Peer helping is simply people helping other people. When people experience frustrations, worries, concerns, and other life events, they typically turn to their friends, not professionals, for help, advice, practical assistance, and support. Our job is to strengthen what friends have to offer, thereby increasing a person's ability to find a safe and satisfying solution. Friends can also assist in determining the need for referral to professionals and can often provide the empathy, understanding, and practical support needed to resolve a number of dilemmas.

Peer helping can take place virtually anywhere. Although elementary and secondary schools are probably the most popoular sites for peer helping, peer helping programs and services have been established in universities, colleges, hospitals, clinics, community centres, unions, businesses and corporations.

Peer helping can take place at any age. Peer programs have been established for little kids, teens, young adults and senior citizens.

Peer helping takes many different forms. The term "peer helping" is a generic term which includes activities or titles such as: peer tutoring, peer support, peer facilitation, peer mediation, peer conflict resolution, peer counselling, peer education, peer ministry, peer health workers, peer ambassadors, and peer leaders. The term peer helping is used as an umbrella to include all the types of peer programs mentioned above.

While peer helping can include a variety of approaches, it is different from peer groups and self-help or support groups. Both Peer Resources and the National Peer Helpers Association have independently developed standards that help to identify peer helping. According to Peer Resources, peer helping is typically characterized by the following components:

  • Peers are self-nominated or selected by members of their peer group(s);
  • Peers are volunteers, but may receive some type of compensation for their involvement;
  • The peer volunteers receive need-based, goal-directed and experiential skill training from a qualified peer trainer;
  • The peer volunteers are supervised on a regular basis; and
  • The more experience the peers have, the more they are involved in the selection, training, and supervision of other peers.
Some Examples of Peer Helping might include:
  • Computer users seek out others for help in solving problems
  • Police officers help other officers deal with trauma
  • Elementary school students mediate conflicts between other students
  • Experienced employees show new employees "the ropes"
  • A friend listens while another friend describes a problem
  • Students tutor other students
  • Co-workers help colleagues manage work challenges
  • Seniors help each other with loneliness and grief
  • Workers act as peer referral sources for an Employee Family Assistance Program
  • Executives orient other managers to steps for success
  • High school students educate others about substance abuse prevention
  • Experienced parents support new parents
  • People who have overcome adversity help others to do the same
  • Hockey players coach other hockey players
  • Street kids educate other street kids on AIDS prevention

In addition to program standards, a National Certification System for Peer Trainers and Peer Program Consultants has been established to maintain standards of practice.

To learn about other ways that peer helping is being put into practice, visit our Annotated Bibliography or review any of the papers on peer helping in our Public Documents Archive or our Publications list.

[Compass] The latest issue of our print periodical, Compass: A Magazine for Peer Assistance, Mentorship, and Coaching, has an excellent article by Dr. David deRosenroll, who suggests that recent trends combined with historical traditions in peer helping require that a new term be coined to replace "peer helping" as the umbrella phrase. He proposes that the term "peer assistance" be adopted as the term that is most inclusive of the variety of peer-based interventions.

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