Peer support critical elements and experiences in supporting the homeless: A qualitative study

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Journal Article
Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 2018, 28 (4), pp. 213 - 229
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Copyright © 2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Peer supporters are individuals with lived experience and are an integral part of health care systems, providing support to those affected by various phenomena such as homelessness and addictions. However, little is known about the critical elements that underpin peer support interventions. This qualitative study sought to understand the critical elements of intentional peer support with a homeless population, voiced by those who provide and/or receive this support. Twenty-nine participants from 4 different homeless charities in England were interviewed about their experiences of providing/receiving peer support and what they felt were critical factors to its success. Participants defined peer support as an experience-based relationship, built upon mutual understanding, empathy, and support. Thematic analysis was utilised to in developing 6 themes. Results identified peers' persistence in developing unique experience-based relationships, providing social support, role modelling recovery, and peers' motivations were perceived as important factors involved in peer support. It was also found that peers described benefitting from helping, such as, undergoing transformative identity developments that helped them to escape homelessness. Through the retelling of their stories, they create meaning and restructure their autobiography, attributing experiences of homelessness as a catalyst for positive changes in their lives. Limitations and future research are discussed.
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