Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 628–646 | Cite as

Care Wounds: Precarious Vulnerability and the Potential of Exposure

  • Lauren CubellisEmail author
Original Paper


What does it mean to offer care when the act of caring is wounding to its giver? For peer specialists—individuals with lived experience as patients in the psychiatric system—this question shapes how they use their own histories to provide support for individuals experiencing psychiatric crisis. Peer support is unique in the way it draws on empathetic resonance and depends on carefully deployed vulnerability; where one connects with others through the recognition of shared experience and mutual hurt. For peers, care works when this guidance, reassurance, and "being with"—all of which draw upon their own stories of traumatic history and variegated suffering—mitigate the present crisis being experienced by another. Drawing on twenty-eight months of fieldwork with a peer-staffed crisis respite center in the eastern United States, I argue that the peer specialist becomes the embodiment of a novel intersection of intimacy and compensation; one that poses vulnerability not as a consequence, casualty, or risk factor in the commodification of care, but as its principle vector of resonance and the assumption on which it is based. For peers, care that works—in that it creates a mutual resonance for the recipient—becomes simultaneously care that wounds its giver.


Care Precarity Mental health Peer support Homelessness 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, Campus Box 1114Washington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

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