The Queensland Alliance for Mental Health (QAMH) is well into its second year of delivering Peer Work Scholarships, a federally funded program to increase the number of Mental Health Peer Workers in Queensland.

The Peer Work Scholarships aim is to support people with Lived Experience to study the Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work along with mentoring and support for attendance and study materials. To date, QAMH have awarded Peer Work Scholarships to over 100 eligible Queenslanders.

Peer Workers are essential within the community mental health and Hospital and Health Services (HHSs) workforces, using their own lived experience to support and enrich the lives of people experiencing mental health challenges.

With the final round of scholarships now open to all eligible Queenslanders, it’s timely to delve a little deeper into how your lived experience can help others in your practice as a Peer Worker, role opportunities and career pathways beyond Peer Work. We sat down with Chris Trupp, Manager – Medicare Mental Health Centre at Footprints Community, to provide some key insights.

Using your lived experience in your practice as a Peer Worker

Chris believes the main principles of using lived experience in your practice as a Peer Worker is being able to tap into your soft skills, being able to tap into empathy, being able to build rapport and be there for someone so they can bounce things off. Then walk alongside someone as they are navigating their own challenges.

“In practice, it’s all about the skills you have learnt through your own experience as opposed to your own personal lived experience. It’s more about you having been through something that’s really challenging and you got through it and you are on the other side and are walking alongside someone else who is having a challenging time now,” Chris said.

“If anyone is apprehensive about doing peer work because they feel they may need to tell their own story, I personally have only done this on a handful of occasions when there is intention and purpose to share. I use empathy, I model hope, I use open questions and I am walking alongside people all the time. I’m using how I felt during those challenging times to then influence my practice and have perspective on what the other person is going through. Most of the time it is sharing of wisdom and trying to tease out the wisdom that the person has within themselves, to try and prove to the person they have what they need and they can get through this.”

 Peer Worker roles

Lived Experience Peer Workers are vital in our community – reducing hospital admission rates; improving social inclusion; reducing stigma and increasing a sense of hope for individuals, their carers and kin. Roles range from mental health to peer recovery and peer rehabilitation to wellbeing coach and lifestyle facilitator roles.

Chris explained that every single role will be different depending on the organisation and the role you undertake. “For example, if you are an identified Alcohol and other Drugs Peer Worker, you will most likely be using your unique perspective and offering hope to individuals on their recovery journey. If you are working in a community centre or hospital it will look very different to this. Every day is different, and that’s what I love about peer work.”

“Language and terminology is always evolving. At Footprints we go with Lived Experience Peer Worker. Roles where I have used my lived experience range from Community Engagement Officer to Peer Worker, to Wellbeing Coach, Lived Experience Lead and Lived Experience Team Leader.”

“There are more roles becoming available as employers are more enlightened about the benefits of having a Lived Experience Peer Worker on the team,” Chris said.

 Opportunities beyond the Peer Worker role

“Everyone has a choice in how they respond to how they grow and learn to be challenged. If you meet challenges with an open mind and a willingness to learn and listen, then I think your opportunities in a career pathway will open up and keep opening up for you.”

Chris reflects on his own career path. “I started as a Community Engagement Officer and then I went into a Peer Work role where I worked with recovery accommodation guests, I worked with drop in guests, people in crisis and did outreach. From there I had the opportunity as a Lived Experience Team Leader, so not just a team leader that has lived experience but someone who’s lived experience dictates the practice and the role and how you approach the work.”

“I also had the opportunity to go through some professional development training and learn about leadership. This opened a number of doors for me, where I could use not only my practice experience, but also my other transferable skills from music and arts management to then work up into a manager role. I don’t have a social work degree or a clinical background, but what I do have is a lot of experience that I gained through that peer work career pathway.”

Chris’ final words of wisdom for those considering applying for a Peer Work Scholarship
There are no barriers if you are willing to listen and learn and are willing to adapt and work with people.”

Round 5 Peer Work Scholarships are now open to all eligible Queenslanders. Applications close at 11:59pm Tuesday 18 June.

To learn more about eligibility criteria and to apply visit https://www.qamh.org.au/scholarships/

The Peer Work Scholarships Program is an initiative of the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, commissioned by the Queensland Mental Health Commission and administered in Queensland by the Queensland Alliance for Mental Health.