Home > Peer support working: a question of ontology and epistemology?

Norton, Michael John (2023) Peer support working: a question of ontology and epistemology? International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 17, 1. doi.org/10.1186/s13033-023-00570-1.

External website: https://ijmhs.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s...

Mental health services are currently undergoing immense cultural, philosophical, and organisational change. One such mechanism involved in this change has been the recognition of lived experience as a knowledge subset in its own right. Within five Community Health Care Organisations [CHOs] in the Irish mental health services, 2017 marked a new era as the traditional statutory mental health service hired a total of 30 Peer Support Workers. Since then, additional Peer Support Workers were recruited along with the added addition of Family Peer Support Work. The purpose of such positions is to use their lived experiences and the knowledge subset within it to normalise experiences, break down hierarchical barriers and facilitate candid conversations that will allow the service user to progress on their own, self-defined recovery journey. Since it's inception into Irish mental health services, peer support has been line managed by a non-peer discipline. It is this where this paper highlights a potential problem.

The paper raises concerns that the supervision conducted by these non-peer professionals could tamper, mutate and destroy the essence of peer support-the transfer and use of lived experience between service users. As such, a recommendation is suggested that the literature pauses discussions as to the mechanism by which lived experience is delivered and instead focus energies on identifying the ontological and epistemological position that underpins the experiences. One potential position to examine is that of constructionism as such knowledge is created or constructed through the fusion of life experiences and subconscious thoughts and emotions experienced at a particular moment in time which are then entangled together with current information to create a narrative or story that can be therapeutic. It is through this philosophical exercise involving/including existential themes that the essence of lived experience can be identified, protected, and nourished within mental health discourse.

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