Working with People Receiving Peer Support

In this section we will focus on one-to-one support. As well as managing your Peer Supporters, you need to think about how you will support the people using your service. Your contact with people who want support will be mainly at the beginning (referral) and end (feedback and evaluation) of their relationship with your organisation/group.

Your Peer Supporters will have most contact and will build rapport with them. You will assess people, match them to Peer Supporters, monitor the progress of the relationship and evaluate with them as their interactions come to an end.

You should also be available should someone have any issues or queries regarding their support.

Dealing with Referrals

People will hopefully come to your project from a variety of sources from word of mouth to clinical referrals. You need a process to deal with self-referrals and referrals from other agencies that is accessible, easy to communicate and easy to manage.


You will need to confirm that people who approach you personally are who they say they are. This needs to be handled sensitively, and in a way that does not make people feel interrogated. A simple method would be to ask for clinic details and the medication you are taking on your referral form.

External Referrals

Again, you want your pathway for referral to be simple, clear and safe. Making it as easy as possible for clinicians, GPs, Social Workers to refer to you that does not take too much time is important. You want people to want to refer into your service.

For both self and external referrals, you want your pathway to be efficient. Think about the following:

  • Referral form — this could be something that you fill in as the referral develops.
  • Initial contact — how do you want this to be made – email/online form/telephone conversation – all three options?
  • What information do you need to gather — you should only look to collect the information you need for registration of a client, rather than what you are interested to know.
  • Building a picture — your referral form should be used to build a picture and can be used from first contact through to initial assessment with the potential mentee. Below is an example form. You would expect to complete all the information up to ‘Reason for Referral’ before meeting with the potential mentee. The rest of the form can be completed during the initial assessment.


Example Process for referring a client for Peer Support or Peer Support Training in a Charity

Initial meeting with people accessing your project for peer support

You should arrange to meet the person as soon as possible after referral, whether by a third party or in person. The longer the gap between referral and meeting, the more likely people are to disengage. Your initial meeting is an opportunity to gather more information about the person wanting support, assess their suitability for peer support and sign post them to other services if peer support is not suitable for them for now.

Gathering information before referral to peer support

It is at this point that you build a picture. While it is important not to pry, you need to find out enough to assess whether being matched to a Peer Supporter is appropriate, and who will make a good match for your potential client.You need to be asking the following types of questions:

  • What changes in your situation would you like to make?
  • How do you think a Peer Supporter will help you to deal with the issues you are facing?
  • What do you think you would get out of having some sessions with a Peer Supporter?
  • Where would you like to be personally once the sessions end?
  • What other support are you getting?

These questions help you and the potential client assess their readiness for support. If you feel that the issues they are dealing with are not within the remit of a Peer Supporter, at this point you can signpost them to a service or resource that might better meet their needs. Deferring support does not mean refusing it – one-to-one peer support is likely to have better outcomes if it comes at a point where the mentee identifies themselves that they are ready for change. Peer Supporters can help with the outcomes of issues, but not with the issues themselves. For example, a mentee who is struggling to get out and socialise as a result of depression related to their HIV can be supported by a Peer Supporter to set personal goals and make action plans for how they will start to re-engage. The Peer Supporter cannot counsel the mentee through the depression itself.

Case Study: Deferring One-to-one Peer Support

Mary was referred to the Peer Support Project at The Sussex Beacon from the Lawson Unit. She was a sex worker, sofa surfing and was addicted to crack cocaine. She was in an abusive relationship and was not engaging well with the Lawson Unit, the clinic supporting her with her HIV. The hope was that a Peer Supporter would be able to help her with her adherence as she was not taking her medication regularly. However, given that her addiction was affecting her ability to maintain contact with services and attend appointments, it was felt that at first she should get support from drug and alcohol and social services. One-to-one peer support would be more appropriate and more likely to yield positive results once she had got help to stabilise her addiction and could attend a meeting.

Will was referred for Peer Support as he was newly diagnosed and it had come as a complete shock to him. In his initial assessment meeting he was very positive about the future and said that he had made a lot of friends with other people living with HIV so was getting a lot of informal support. He listened to the information about the programme but felt that it was not for him. The Coordinator signposted him to other groups in the area and gave him information about the service, encouraging him to get in contact again in the future if he felt he would benefit from some more focussed support.-

Gathering matching information

Once you have assessed that someone is suitable for support, you need to gather information that will help you match them to a Peer Supporter.

There are some practical factors to take into account, such as if they have a preference for the gender (or other demographic detail) of their Peer Supporter, times they are available for support; if the support is in the community, where they live. There is also some more general information about the person that will help you think about the kind of match that might be most successful – and it is not always immediately obvious:

Case Study: The Matching Process

Troy was referred to Positively UK for one-to-one peer support. He was a gay man who was on the party scene. He had not been too specific about the type of person he wanted support from, but it happened that there was a Peer Supporter available with very similar social interests to Troy. It was felt that this would be a really good match. After a couple of meetings, the Peer Supporter met with the Coordinator and surprisingly fed back that the sessions were not going well. They simply did not get on. The Coordinator followed up with Troy and after chatting found out that he loved art and visiting art galleries. The Coordinator had another Peer Supporter, a woman, who also loved art and other creative pursuits – not so keen on partying! They were matched and the outcome was great. They got on well and really connected through their similar interests. Not only was the Peer Supporter able to support with some of the issues that Troy was facing, she was also able to encourage him to engage in the activities he enjoyed other than partying and had neglected.

You will need to ensure that as well as gathering and recording the information you need on your referral/assessment form, that you give the person engaging in peer support the information they need. This will include:

  • Confidentiality information – including a confidentiality agreement for them to sign and return to you.
  • Emergency contact information
  • Information about your organisation and how to contact you
  • Complaints policy information
  • Information about other organisations (if appropriate)

Contact with people during their engagement with One-to-One Peer Support

In many cases, apart from setting up meetings for people seeking support and Peer Supporters, you may have minimal to no contact with beneficiaries as their primary contact is their Peer Supporter. However, people should know who to contact and how to get in contact if they have any queries or concerns during their engagement with the programme. You will therefore be relying on your Peer Supporters to feedback to you regarding the mentee.

Contact with people at the end of their engagement with One-to-One Peer Support

Following up with people at the end of their engagement with one-to-one peer support is an opportunity to hear from them. Getting their view of their experience of Peer Support will help you to:

  • Gauge the extent to which the support has benefitted the individual
  • Get a view of the Peer Supporter from the individual’s perspective
  • Evaluate your project
  • Continuously improve the service you have developed based on feedback from end users