The Peer Conference
31 October 2013
Resources now available
The Peer Conference
Strengthening mental health peer support
Scroll down, or click on the links to go directly to sections of interest. Resources from the conference are available to download in each area.
The Peer Conference was held on 31 October 2013 at the Treacy Conference Centre, Parkville, Victoria, and attended by over 130 delegates. The day was chaired by Belinda Horton, Executive Director of PANDA (Post and Ante-Natal Depression Association), and open to the mental health workforce (service providers, peer, and non-peer), consumers and their families/carers. This event was supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing under the Mental Health Conference Funding Program, which is managed by the Mental Health Council of Australia.
In hosting this event, the Centre of Excellence in Peer Support (CEPS) aimed to provide an opportunity for everyone interested in the development of the peer workforce to come together, network and share ideas. The Peer Conference was designed to engage participants in consideration of key issues affecting the peer workforce, and identify ways of working together to strengthen the future of peer work. In addition, the conference aimed to build a better understanding of peer support work for all participants; to raise the profile of the CEPS project, and peer work broadly.
The conference was attended by approximately 100 consumers and carers; comprised primarily of the peer workforce, followed by carers, consumers not currently working in mental health, service providers and 'non-peer' mental health workers.
Click here to download the Peer Conference agenda PDF.
Click here to download the full Conference program PDF.
“Amazing, confirming thoughts around what peer support is, and what it should look like” - participant
In line with the aims of the conference, Sandy Watson delivered a keynote address that was “direct, explicit and encouraged much thought” (participant). Sandy was among the first consumer workers to be employed by a public mental health service in Australia in 1993.
“In 1993 I was naive about consumer work…there was nothing to go on to provide me with the guidance I needed…Interestingly, 20 years on, some consumer or peer workers are in the same predicament, not knowing what they should be doing and having little access to experienced peer mentoring or supervision, or any guidance as to how to work in an authentic way.”
- Sandy Watson
The keynote address was based on Sandy’s observations as a consumer educator, and focused on four central issues for the development of Australia’s peer workforce (read full address at the link below).
“…the mental health peer workforce has reached a new level of maturity, and now consists of two distinct but related disciplines. The discipline of consumer engagement and leadership; and the discipline of recovery peer work.
“…We now stand at a historical crossroads between these two disciplines: the discipline of consumer engagement and the discipline of peer recovery work, and the sign at the crossroad says, ‘confused’ and this points in all directions. If we blur these disciplines as much as we have already, we risk the quality, viability and integrity of both.” - Sandy Watson
Sandy’s forthright, in-depth and informed consideration of critical issues for the peer workforce elicited much debate during the conference, and many comments regarding her thought-provoking address were received in event feedback.
Following the keynote, a range of speakers engaged conference participants to consider issues affecting the workforce, strategies for overcoming perceived challenges, and examples of successful models. Speakers:
- Sally Fisher, Bipolar Babes
- Laurel Mott, Arafemi
- Anne Wicking, The Compassionate Friends
Watch a short film clip about peer support and The Compassionate Friends
- Lana Woolf
- Debra Parker & Lee Thornton, St Luke’s Anglicare
- Tracy Beaton, Department of Health
- Leanne Craze & Penny Tolhurst, Health Workforce Australia’s peer workforce project
- Michael Burge, National Mental Health Consumer and Carer Forum (NMHCCF)
- Graham Panther and Robyn Callaghan, Mind Australia
During Graham Panther and Robyn Callaghan’s session, current peer support workers in attendance were asked to share what they saw as the highest priorities for improving their individual workplaces. Many responses were reflective of recommendations in current literature on best practice peer support models. Peer workers’ reported needs included:
- Enhanced commitment from management in supporting fundamental values of peer work;
- Defined principles and values of peer work, developed by peer staff;
- Greater role clarity in Position Descriptions;
- Clear role differentiation between mental health workers and peer support workers;
- Access to peer supervision (internal or external);
- Being supported to attend training, despite reduced hours/part-time roles;
- Increased understanding of peer work roles and values by non-peer staff, including management.
The Peer Conference concluded with a discussion panel, facilitated by Catherine Deveny and featuring representatives of six peer services working beyond the exclusive remit of mental health. The purpose of the panel was to draw upon a wider range of experience in delivering innovative and successful models of peer support. Panelists:
- John Dommett, Connecting Home
- Emma Hooper, Self Help Addiction Resource Centre (sharc)
- Brent Allan, Living Positive Victoria
- Lisa Gelbart, SIDS & Kids
- Janine Wawryk, Cancer Connect, Cancer Council
- Nichole Hussey, In2Life
The rationale for this panel was simple: there is some really great peer work being done outside the mental health sector. Are successful models in one area applicable to others? Can they be replicated? What knowledge, expertise and resources can we share with one another?
“Recognition of the power of peer support to transform lives and revolutionise services is not limited to the mental health arena. From breastfeeding to bullying in schools, from diabetes to dementia, head injury to heart disease, its transformational value is being recognised.
“We need to keep the focus broad…and learn from other fields where peer support is well-established.”
Three new training modules developed by CEPS were also launched at the Peer Conference, and are now available for free download. These training modules are designed as self-directed resources to facilitate thoughtful and effective development of peer support programs.
In line with CEPS’ aims to promote knowledge sharing, the modules feature a range of quotes from recommended further reading. You can access supporting materials via the CEPS Research and Resources Directories.
Please email email@example.com for additional resources and guidance in setting up a new group or program. CEPS also welcomes your feedback on the training modules, and suggested topics for future modules.
Click on the links to download the modules in PDF format:
“We are much better placed to develop [our new] mental health peer support program the right way, and to advocate for a peer-centered model, because of your work.” –service provider
Current peer workers were able to connect with colleagues and experts in key areas, and feedback indicated that this was a highly valued opportunity for workers, many of whom operate in isolated roles. Peer workers also reported that they appreciated establishing clarity around key issues affecting their work, and some stated feeling more justified in, for example, maintaining professional boundaries or advocating for greater levels of support/supervision.
A number of prospective peer support workers reported that the conference was effective in building a better understanding of peer work; making connections with local peer support workers, and in gathering information about recommended training and workforce entry.
“Having the opportunity to hear different ideas and perspectives will allow me to reflect on my practice” - participant
Of 65 evaluations returned, the majority of participants stated that their expectations were met; consistent with aims, participants commonly identified that gaining a better understanding of issues affecting the peer workforce was most beneficial. Several indicated how their new knowledge may specifically shape their practice, service delivery or future program development. Many attendees also noted hearing personal stories as a powerful highlight. Feedback received via email/telephone following the conference has also been consistently positive.
As with previous CEPS events, a significant proportion of attendees identified the opportunity to network and connect with their colleagues as being a vital and positive element of the day; this is indicative of the ongoing need to support and deliver events for peer support workers and service providers.
“I am going to take some of this wisdom to enact immediate change in my workplace” - participant
Thank you to everyone who contributed to planning, delivering, and evaluating the Peer Conference 2013, and to all participants for making the day a success!
If you have any questions about the Peer Conference, please contact Tori Bell, CEPS Project Worker via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: 1300 237 199.