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The peer support model of addiction treatment has grown increasingly popular over the past several years. Evidence of its efficacy has been shown through a few studies of peer-based therapies for mental health disorders. Peer Recovery Support Services (PRSS), in terms of addiction, have limited empirical evidence, but its outlook is promising. Peer supporters provide a quality of counseling that others cannot. Their experiential knowledge allows them to empathize with patients in a more meaningful capacity. Though the research is small and limited, many recovery programs have already implemented PRSS.

How Peer Support Works

Mostly, peer supporters supplement the work of professional recovery counselors. There have been a few shifts in the healthcare industry over the past ten years that have influenced the adding of peer support models into recovery treatment. Three of the most profound shifts in regards to addiction recovery include:

  1. The incorporation of recovery philosophy and mental health services into one model of care.
  2. The movement of mental health services into primary care.
  3. An increased focus on evidence-based healthcare and best-practice models.

Several distinctions between peer support models and professional support models have been noted. For instance, professional support is clinically focused and emphasizes distance and objectivity, while a peer supporter helps those in recovery increase the quality of their personal and family life while offering assistance in tasks they may not be able to complete. Their lived experience allows them to connect with a peer in a more profound way, and generally, most patients appreciate the fact that their peer supporter understands what they are going through on a more personal level. The professional and peer supporters work in sync to provide the most effective care. 

What Are Peer Support Methods

The methods that peer supporters are taught are different from professionals. Peer supporters may learn to teach goal-setting, problem-solving, or other recovery-oriented tools to help their clients face the typical challenges with recovery and preventing relapses.

Common peer support models are as follows:

  • Professional-led group therapy with peer exchanges
  • Support groups
  • One-to-family, or family-to-family support
  • One-on-one individual support

While peer support models can be conducted in many settings, there are special qualities to PRSS that separate it from other models. First, peer support is non-judgmental. Because peer supporters have lived similar experiences or lifestyles, clients look at their support as being non-judgemental, whereas a professional who has never lived the experience may harbor feelings of judgment. This perceived judgment causes some patients to hold back on the information they may find embarrassing or shameful. With a peer supporter, clients are more likely to be honest.

Additionally, peer supporters are taught to be empathetic and compassionate towards their clients. Because of their experiential knowledge of addiction recovery, the peer supporter is better able to put themselves in their client’s shoes and share a similar perspective of their addiction. With a professional who has never had a substance abuse disorder, there is no illumination of feelings and lifestyles that come with addiction. They can go by what they are taught or from their experience with other patients, but empathy may be limited. Peer supporters can provide comfort that professionals may not. 

Peer Support Benefits

Peer support is reciprocal. Both parties are benefiting from the experience in one way or another. The client is receiving much-needed emotion and lifestyle change support, while the peer supporter is gaining better tools and a better perspective of addiction recovery. In formal clinical settings, there is an understanding that the patient needs help and the professional provides that help, but in peer support, there is a sharing of power, and both parties are aware that they have things to learn.

Sharing of power is a new idea in terms of addiction treatment. No one person is in charge, and both the peer supporter and client share responsibility. When people have the freedom to make their own choices, they may begin to act like the people who made those positive choices for them. The peer support model offers clients a chance to take charge of their own lives. If a person is timid and less assertive than most, the peer supporter helps influence them to take a better role in support groups or one-on-one counseling. When power is shared successfully, people give and take the lead in discussions, both parties are offered a chance to speak, and decisions are made mutually.

PRSS and Aftercare

Peer support models also offer clients tools for rebuilding relationships post-treatment. Through PRSS, a client is able to make healthy connections with loved ones that were damaged during their addiction. Peer support can also be an effective avenue for clients with codependency issues. In this case, they can help their client recognize codependent behaviors and learn to set appropriate boundaries in their relationships. The support offered to a client may provide them with the courage to say “no” when their boundaries are crossed. PRSS can also bring to light any enabling behaviors that you or your loved ones exhibit.


There are many therapeutic benefits to peer support therapy; mainly, it helps people realize they are not alone and are capable of living fulfilling lives after substance abuse. Peer support can be a structured Peer Recovery Support Service (PRSS) or a group-therapy setting. Peer support therapy offers a non-judgmental environment for people to talk freely and be met with empathy. If you or someone you love could benefit from peer support type therapies, do not hesitate to call The Guest House at (855) 483-7800. We have many therapy models and activities to accommodate your needs. Our staff has been dedicated to keeping the Guest House running during COVID, which means social distancing and increased sanitation practices. Don’t let the pandemic hold you back from living a healthy and substance-free lifestyle. There’s no better time to work on yourself than now, and you definitely deserve it.