Peer Helpers

GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF PEER SUPPORT

Base agencies, leaders and sailors all share responsibility for the general welfare of the community and its members. Peers provide a natural source of support that is important to a healthy community. Peer support includes a wide range of activities from simply being there and listening to a shipmate or colleague, to more active planning and intervention aimed at helping the person in need address his or her problem.

PEER SUPPORT AS A PROTECTIVE FACTOR

Peer support is essential for minimizing social isolation and preventing distress. A significant number of Sailors have little involvement in their communities and find themselves felling lonely and isolated. With many Sailors living off-base, leaders need to be aware of this higher-risk group as they encourage peer support.

PEER SUPPORT COMPLIMENTS LEADERSHIP SUPPORT

Peer Helpers

Peers can play a crucial role in providing support and encouraging use of helping agencies. For example, Sailors may be more comfortable talking to peers and may be more willing to seek help when recommended by a friend. This naturally occurring process can be enhanced by leaders who encourage a supportive environment and the use of helping agencies. Leaders can encourage active involvement in command social events and other base and community activities. Wellness presentations at CO's calls by health care professionals and other helping groups can increase Sailor awareness of how to access base services for assistance.

THE BASIC APPROACH TO PEER SUPPORT

The following steps usually help Sailors think about ways of helping others and emphasize the full range of support that can be offered:

Click on each heading for more information.

B - Being there

The first component entails simply spending time with another person. Ideally, being there for another person involves showing empathy for the person, accepting the person for who they are and actively listening. Empathy is the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experiences of another.

  • Avoid snap judgments.
  • Send the message you are interested in hearing about the person's problem(s).
  • Offer the person hope that measures can be taken to help the situation.

 

A - Awareness

This component entails knowing what is going on in a peer’s life. Ideally, awareness involves asking about current problems and needs that the person may have. Remember simple considerations such as, does the person have someone to spend time with through the weekend.

S - Shared planning

This component entails peers working together to develop a plan to address a current problem or crisis. This could involve listening to a peer talk through possible plans, or involve making suggestions. For example, the peer can recommend helping agencies for further guidance. Effective plans for dealing with problems often involve supportive action by family, peers, supervisors, and helping agencies. Ultimately, it is up to the individual which plan they want to pursue.

I - Initiating the plan

This component entails helping a peer implement the plan that they have developed. This could involve helping prioritize steps to solve the problems, getting basic material necessities, locating resources, or providing transportation.

C - Continuity of prevention

This component entails continuing to follow-up with peers after the immediate crisis is resolved. A supportive peer follows up with others even when there is no current crisis.

USING THE PEER SUPPORT CHECKLIST

This approach provides a step-by-step guide for how to help others in need:

  • The page can be distributed to the "natural helpers," or unit members who have been known to take the initiative to help people.
  • The page can be handed out to unit members as an educational guide on enhancing peer support. It serves merely as a general guide to help foster ideas about helping someone.
  • The BASIC approach can be discussed within the unit as "just in time" training when significant life challenges occur.

 

REFERENCES

  • Ciaramicoli, A. & Ketcham K. (1997). The power of empathy. New York: Penguin Group.
  • Frese, M. (1999). Social support as a moderator of the relationship between work stressors and psychological dysfunctioning: A longitudinal study with objective measures. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 4, 179-92.

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