Community Mental Health Journal

, Volume 50, Issue 8, pp 879–885 | Cite as

Embodying Recovery: A Qualitative Study of Peer Work in a Consumer-Run Service Setting

Brief Report


The use of peer support for persons with mental illness has been gaining force. While research has demonstrated the benefits of peer support, few studies have investigated the qualitative characteristics of how peer support aids persons recovering from mental illness. Therefore, this study sought to clarify the characteristics that constitute peer support and its contribution to recovery. We conducted ethnographic fieldwork and semi-structured interviews with nine peer advocates at a consumer-run organization in New York City, and identified three themes that describe how peer support influences recovery: transforming experience into expertise, understanding the mechanics of peer support, and launching peers towards their own recovery. Peer support plays a critical role in helping clients move beyond their patient role to an empowered sense of personhood. Additionally, the value of peer support highlights current deficiencies within the mental health system and how a bolder shift towards recovery might repair them.


Peers Peer support Recovery Agency 



This research was supported by the Center for the Study of Issues in Public Mental Health, funded by a Grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health (P20-MH078188).


  1. Alexander, M. J., Haugland, G., Ashenden, P., Knight, E., & Brown, I. (2009). Coping with thoughts of suicide: Techniques used by consumers of mental health services. Psychiatric Services, 60(9), 1214–1221.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Angell, B., Mahoney, C. A., & Martinez, N. I. (2006). Promoting treatment adherence in assertive community treatment. Social Science Review, 80(3), 485–526.Google Scholar
  3. Appadurai, A. (2004). The capacity to aspire: Culture and the terms of recognition. In V. Rao & M. Walton (Eds.), Culture and Public Action (pp. 59–84). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bellack, A. (2006). Scientific and consumer models of recovery in schizophrenia: Concordance, contrasts, and implications. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 32(3), 432–442.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Benjamin, O., & Sullivan, O. (1996). The importance of difference: Conceptualising increased flexibility in gender relations at home. Sociological Review, 44(2), 225–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chamberlin, J. (1978). On our own: Patient controlled alternatives to the mental health system. New York: Hawthorn.Google Scholar
  7. Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. Los Angeles: Sage.Google Scholar
  8. Chinman, M., Weingarten, R., Stayner, D., & Davidson, L. (2001). Chronicity reconsidered: Improving person-environment fit through a consumer-run service. Community Mental Health Journal, 37(3), 215–229.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Coniglio, F. D., Hancock, N., & Ellis, L. A. (2012). Peer support within clubhouse: A grounded theory study. Community Mental Health Journal, 48, 153–160.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Davidson, L., Chinman, M., Kloos, B., Weingarten, R., Stayner, D., & Tebes, J. K. (1999). Peer support among individuals with severe mental illness: A review of the evidence. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 6, 165–187.Google Scholar
  11. Davidson, L., Rakfeldt, J., & Strauss, J. (2010). The roots of the recovery movement in psychiatry. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Department of Health and Human Services. (2003). Achieving the promise: Transforming Mental Health Care in America, President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health. Final Report (DHHS Pub. No. SMA-03-3892). Department of Health and Human Services, US Public Health Service, Rockville, MD.Google Scholar
  13. Felton, C., Stastny, P., Shern, D., Blanch, A., Donague, S. A., Knight, E., et al. (1995). Consumers as peer specialists on intensive case management teams: Impact on client outcomes. Psychiatric Services, 46, 1037–1044.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Fukui, S., Davidson, L., Holter, M., & Rapp, C. (2010). Pathways to recovery (PTR): Impact of peer-led group participation on mental health recovery outcome. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 34(1), 42–48.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self identity. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  16. Goldstrom, I. D., Campbell, J., Rogers, J. A., Lambert, D. B., Blacklow, B., Henderson, M. J., et al. (2006). National estimates for mental health mutual support groups, self-help organizations, and consumer-operated services. Administration and Policy In Mental Health, 33(1), 92–103.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hopper, K. (2006). Redistribution and its discontents: On the prospects of committed work in public mental health and like settings. Human Organization, 65(2), 218–226.Google Scholar
  18. Hopper, K. (2007). Rethinking social recovery in schizophrenia: What a capabilities approach might offer. Social Science and Medicine, 65, 868–879.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jacobson, N. (2004). In recovery: The making of mental health policy. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Landers, G. M., & Zhou, M. (2011). An analysis of relationships among peer support, psychiatric hospitalizations, and crisis stabilization. Community Mental Health Journal, 47, 106–112.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lennon, M. C., & Rosenfield, S. (1994). Relative fairness and the division of housework: The importance of options. American Journal of Sociology, 100(2), 506–531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McLean, A. (1995). Consumer/Ex-patient movement in the United States: Contradictions, crisis and change. Social Science and Medicine, 40(8), 1053–1071.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mead, S., Hilton, D., & Curtis, L. (2001). Peer support: a theoretical perspective. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 25, 134–141.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Moran, G. S., Russinova, Z. Gidugu, V., & Gagne, C. (2012). Challenges experienced by paid peer providers in mental health recovery: a qualitative study. Community Mental Health Journal, epub ahead of print. PMID: 23117937.Google Scholar
  25. Rogers, E. S., Kash-MacDonald, M., & Brucker, D. (2009). Systematic Review of Peer Delivered Services Literature 1989–2009. Boston: Boston University, Sargent College, Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation,
  26. Scott, A. (2011). Authenticity work: Mutuality and boundaries in peer support. Society and Mental Health, 1(3), 173–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Sells, D., Black, R., Davidson, L., & Rowe, M. (2008). Beyond generic support: incidence and impact of invalidation in peer services for clients with severe mental illness. Psychiatric Services, 59(11), 1322–1327.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sen, A. (1999). Commodities and capabilities. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Slade, M. (2009). The contribution of mental health services to recovery. Journal of Mental Health, 18(5), 367–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Solomon, P. (2004). Peer support/Peer provided services underlying processes, benefits, and critical ingredients. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 27(4), 392–401.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Stastny, P., & Lehmann, P. (Eds.). (2007). Alternatives beyond psychiatry. Berlin: Peter Lehmann Publishing.Google Scholar
  32. Tandora, J., O’Connell, M., Miller, R., Dinzeo, T., Bellamy, R. A., & Davidson, L. (2010). A clinical trial of peer-based culturally responsive person-centered care for psychosis for African Americans and Latinos. Clinical Trials, 7, 368–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tanenbaum, S. J. (2012). Consumer-operated service organizations: Organizational characteristics, community relationships, and the potential for citizenship. Community Mental Health Journal, 48, 397–406.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Austin
    • 1
  • Aditi Ramakrishnan
    • 2
  • Kim Hopper
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric ResearchOrangeburgUSA

Personalised recommendations