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Peer support is assistance provided to people in need by individuals with experience in similar situations who may have advice and help to offer. This form of assistance is based on a model of equality; rather than being given advice by an authority, the party in need receives supportive care from someone with similar experiences. Informal peer support networks can be seen in a variety of environments, including academic institutions, law enforcement agencies, and health-care settings. More organized peer support organizations are also be active in connecting individuals who need help with assistance they may find useful.
In peer support, it is possible for two or more individuals to provide emotional, practical, and social support that may be mutual in nature. Peers have similar experiences, although some may be more experienced than others, and they can share knowledge and skills together in a mutually supportive environment. This provides benefits to all parties, as some receive support, while others experience psychological benefits as a result of providing help.
One example of peer support can be seen in schools, where teachers may encourage more experienced students to tutor peers who may be struggling. Two students can work on an equitable footing with each other that differs from formal tutoring provided by instructors. The peer may also have innovative solutions because she has recently experienced similar problems; in an elementary school class, for example, a student who masters fractions can apply that knowledge to helping other students succeed. This can have the added benefit of reinforcing the lesson and increasing confidence.
Individuals in crisis often have a sense of being alone and feel like no one has experienced a situation quite like theirs. Authority figures cannot provide the same support as someone who has been in that situation, or is still in it. Peer support can be useful in settings like rehabilitation facilities and law enforcement agencies where officers may be struggling with traumatic events. Peers can offer advice, assistance, and support based on their own experiences.
Some peer support is highly informal; peers may reach out to each other without prompting to create a more supportive, healthy environment. Formal peer mentoring organizations encourage people to sign up as mentors and educators, and pair them with individuals who appear to be in need of assistance. Such organizations may offer training to their members to improve the quality of the support and make sure that peers avoid common pitfalls when providing counseling and assistance.