Must Read: Ashcraft on How Peers “Connect” With Individuals

NYAPRS Note: I usually try to send only up to 4 postings a day but couldn’t wait to share this one.Here’s an extraordinarily clear and compassionate explanation of how the magic of peer support works from Lori Ashcraft, dear friend and co-director of the International Association of Peer Specialists. This comes from an interview at INAPs’ Annual Conference that was conducted by Dennis Grantham in a new piece, “Under The Microscope: Perspectives on Peer Support”, for peer support champion Ron Manderscheid of the National Association of County Behavioral Health & Developmental Disability Directors.

How Peers “Connect” With Individuals

Lori Ashcraft, PhD, INAPS co-director and a respected expert on the work of peers, explains this complicated interaction and illustrates some of the ways that peer-to-peer interactions differ from traditional clinician/patient interactions.

“If I meet you and you’re a person who’s in trouble or crisis due to a mental health problem, I know that if I get close to you and I care about you, it’s going to hurt me because I’m going to have to feel what you’re going through,” she says. “Now, right there, the history of the clinical profession has created a firewall—some call it professional distance, dual relationship, or another term—with the purpose of protecting themselves as they move forward with evaluating and treating an individual.”

“Peers don’t have that—they don’t use a firewall,” says Ashcraft, noting that the peer’s objective isn’t to treat anything, but instead to create a relationship and establish trust.”

“When a peer gets to that point—the point where it’s going to hurt—there’s where the love and unconditional acceptance comes in,” continues Ashcraft. “A trained peer says, ‘I’m going to go ahead. I’m going to accept the pain that I’m going to feel when I am with you. But, I’m not going to live at the level of that pain, because if I do, I can’t be of service to you.”

“This is where peers are trained to ‘be in two places at once,” Ashcraft explains. “So, on one level, as a peer is listening to and feeling all of those things, on another level, he’s thinking, ‘I’ve got to keep my head here, so I don’t get overwhelmed.’

This is where the love comes in, because when a peer makes that commitment to love, fear diminishes. The peer decides, ‘I’m gonna go for it here.’ At that point, the peer’s commitment is to just be with you, completely present in your situation. They know that they aren’t there to ask a lot of clever questions—that’s the therapist’s job—or to fix you or to offer a lot of advice.”

“Instead, the peer’s job is to work with the person to go deeper inside and learn more. The peer is looking to find and understand the strengths that are within the person, then—amid the person’s current crisis—to reflect those back in a positive way so that the person can start finding himself again, and finding his own direction forward.”

“The goal is tapping into a person’s own powerful sense of self determination,” Ashcraft says. But, she cautions, “The moment that I step in or tell you what to do, I rob you of that power, which is what you need most at that time.”