An international consensus study of peer support in organisations whose employees are at high risk of exposure to potentially traumatic incidents, states eight key recommendations for peer-support programs. The investigators interviewed clinicians, researchers and experienced peer-support practitioners.

1. The goals of peer support:

  • Provide an empathetic, listening ear
  • Provide low level psychological support
  • Identify colleagues who might be at risk to themselves or others
  • Facilitate pathways to professional help

2. The peer supporter is an individual who:

  • Is a member of the target population
  • Has considerable experience within the field of work of the target population
  • Is respected and trusted by his/her peers
  • Has undergone a selection process prior to appointment, including interview by a suitably constituted panel

3. Training and accreditation. Peer supporters should:

  • Be trained in basic crisis support skills (such as listening skills, psychological first aid, information about referral options)
  • Meet specific standards in this training before commencing their role
  • Participate in on-going training, supervision and review

4. Role. Peer supporters should:

  • Not limit their activities to high-risk incidents, but should also be part of routine employee health and welfare
  • In complex cases not see clients on an on-going basis, but seek specialist advice and offer referral pathways
  • Maintain confidentiality (except when seeking professional guidance or in cases of risk of harm to self or others)

5. The organisation should provide professional support:

  • Clinical education
  • On-going supervision and training of peer supporters

6. Access to peer supporters:

  • Peer supporters should normally be offered as the initial point of contact after exposure to a high-risk incident
  • In other situations, employees should be able to self-select their peer supporter from a pool of accredited supporters

7. Looking after peer supporters. The peer supporters should:

  • Not be available on call 24 hours per day
  • Have easy access to professional psychosocial support for themselves
  • Engage in regular peer supervision within the program

8. Program evaluation:

  • The peer support program should establish clear goals that can be easily evaluated
  • The evaluation should be performed by an external, independent evaluator on a regular basis
  • The evaluation should include qualitative and quantitative feedback from users
  • While not primary goals of peer support programs, the evaluation may include objective indicators such as absenteeism, turnover, work performance and staff morale

Source: Guidelines for Peer Support in High-Risk Organizations