The term peer can often draw varying responses from professionals and service users alike. The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘peer’ as, ‘a person who is the same age or who has the same social status as you’.
But in some settings people can appear to withdraw or even visibly recoil from the little four letter word. Why is that? What is a ‘peer’? Is it a good thing? A bad? Indifferent? Well I guess it would depend on the context…
In the context of addiction and homelessness services, a peer of service users is someone with the same social status as the service users. But if they are also a professional, then surely they are equal to the other professionals around them?
This could become quite interesting. So, I am a peer to service users and I have very similar experiences to those that many of them are currently experiencing. I am also a professional within the third sector, and as such am equal to my colleagues, with similar experiences to them too. And where does that leave me? Being pulled between both worlds? Not really belonging in either anymore? Some days, I must admit it can feel like that.
Sometimes the reaction from service users is just as baffling as from other professionals. I have been kicked out of meetings and I have been completely ignored for weeks on end. I have put my best foot forward in some awkward and uncomfortable situations and have sat with difficult feelings from staff and services. I often ponder how a service can claim to be person centred, let alone psychologically informed in their approach to service users when they respond in this way to professional ‘peers’.
If we are all intending on moving in the same direction (towards more inclusive care) does this not ‘start at home’ so to speak? How can we possibly hope to include the most socially excluded and disillusioned of our society when we cannot even welcome each other? Tender culture and target pressures aside, have we forgotten professional courtesy and basic manners and accept this as ok, just as long as we treat the service users with some decency?
While services are incapable of sitting around the same table as the ‘competition’, we will continue to be incapable of welcoming those that need us the most.