Qualitative study of peer workers within the 'Partners in Recovery' programme in regional Australia

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Hurley, J, Cashin, A, Mills, J, Hutchinson, M, Kozlowski, D & Graham, I 2017, 'Qualitative study of peer workers within the 'Partners in Recovery' programme in regional Australia', International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 187-195.

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In Australia and internationally, Peer Workers are increasingly being incorporated into the mental health workforce. Underpinning this trend is the conviction that the inclusion of workers with lived experience in overcoming mental health challenges is central to transforming service delivery. Given there are few identified Australian studies into the experiences of Peer Workers, this paper reports findings from qualitative interviews conducted in a Partners In Recovery programme in one regional area in Australia. The interviews formed part of a larger mixed-method study evaluating Peer Worker roles in the programme. Thematic analysis of interview transcripts with Peer Workers and other staff employed in the programme (n = 22) was undertaken. Central to the five themes that emerged was the concept of lived experience expertise in overcoming mental health challenges. The themes were: (i) role variance, (ii) the challenges and opportunities for Peer Worker, (iii) the processes Peer Workers employed as they attempted to shape an identify and language, (iv) the inconsistencies and challenges of employing lived experience as a defining feature of the peer worker role, and (v) the nature of trust arising from lived experience relationships. From this study, it is evident that the Peer Worker role remains underdeveloped. The difficulties experienced by Peer Workers in establishing a homogenous identity and role is not unique. The process and lack of clarity around role identity revealed from the narratives, parallels the experiences of Mental Health Nursing.

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