We all know the phrases ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ or ‘it’s good to talk’ but the benefits in talking about how you are feeling go far beyond this. When we are in a difficult situation, we lose our problem-solving abilities. It can be impossible to focus and it can seem overwhelming to choose what action to take. Sometimes a listening ear and a nudge in the right direction is all we need to move on. Social and emotional support and the role of individuals, families and communities in delivering this are vital to managing wellbeing. We all need someone to talk to about personal matters without judgement and in confidence. To listen to us and offer help when things get on top of us.
For some it’s not as easy as talking to a friend or family member. Perhaps we don’t want to worry them. Maybe they have their own problems going on. We might not have spoken to them in a while because we’ve been so busy at work. We may feel they won’t understand, or feel afraid to unburden ourselves or let go in front of them. Some of us just don’t have people we can turn to in difficult times for a variety of reasons. This is where peer support can play an important role.
What is peer support?
Peer support is when people use their own lived experiences to help others. Getting emotional support from people who have had similar experiences can improve wellbeing, increase self esteem and confidence, provide hope that we can move on from a difficult situation and help us manage it better.
What are the benefits of peer support?
A review of over 1,000 research studies on peer support found that it helps people feel more knowledgeable, confident, happy, and less isolated and alone. The mutuality and reciprocity that occurs through peer support builds social capital, which in turn is associated with well-being and resilience. The opportunity to support each other is mutually beneficial. It helps us build empathy and fosters positive behaviours.
LawCare and peer support
At LawCare, we have a network of around 90 trained peer supporters, people who work in, or have worked in, the legal profession who may have been through difficult times themselves and can offer one-to-one support, friendship and mentoring over telephone calls to those who need it. They understand life in the law and all its challenges. This is what makes our support service unique and supporters well placed to help other legal professionals. Our peer supporters reflect the diversity of the legal profession and are drawn from all branches of the legal profession and career stages. They are also from different age groups, genders and ethnic groups.
Our peer supporters provide knowledge, emotional assistance, experience, practical help and social interaction. They are not counsellors, and they can’t provide people with solutions to their problems, but they have been specifically selected and trained in listening skills and are empathetic and non-judgemental. Usually, peer supporters provide support over two to three phone calls, but it can be less or more than this, it just depends on the individual and what they need.
One of our supporters, Claire, told us “One of the real privileges of this is being able to say that I have stood where they have stood and understand what they are thinking, and have felt the anxieties they are feeling. When you’ve had a critical illness, just going to work presents you with a whole new set of issues you’ve never experienced before and it can be an exceptionally bumpy ride, often feeling like you are taking one step forward and two steps back. It is truly amazing for me to walk that journey with another person, knowing that I have also taken those steps, but also to walk with them for a time, to a place when the rollercoaster is less bumpy.”
The most common issues our peer supporters can help with are:
- Worries about training
- Difficult relationships at work
- Struggling with workload
- Returning to work after illness or a career break
- Worrying if law is the right career for you
- Facing disciplinary proceedings either by your regulator or employer
Sarah* contacted us for support when she had turned to alcohol to help her deal with a heavy workload and stress at work. She says “One of LawCare's peer supporters helped me earlier in the year and I am now back on track thanks to her. I am doing well and pressure has come away from me. I am also not drinking, she was amazing. Thank you so much, keep up the good work, you saved me!"
I am interested in peer support – what should I do next?
Many people find peer support helps them, but it is not for everyone. Before considering making an application, think about the following:
- Am I comfortable talking about my experiences to new people? Talking about your experiences can make you feel more aware of your thoughts and emotions.
- Am I comfortable hearing about someone else’s experiences? Listening to someone else’s experiences can help you feel less alone and introduce you to new ways of coping but it may also be unhelpful.
- Am I well enough? If you are in an acute crisis, peer support may not be right for you at the moment.
- Is it the right time? Is peer support what you need at the moment?
If you feel a peer supporter could help you, please visit http://www.lawcare.org.uk/peersupport and complete the application form. One of our team will then be in touch by telephone to discuss your needs and see if we can match you with an appropriate peer supporter. We expect to reply within two weeks of your application and it may take up to one month to allocate a peer supporter. We can’t guarantee that we will be able to offer you a peer supporter as this does depend on your circumstances and their availability, but we try our best. If we are unable to allocate a peer supporter, you are also able to call our helpline for emotional support on 0800 279 6888, email firstname.lastname@example.org or access online chat and other resources at www.lawcare.org.uk
Anything you discuss with your peer supporter is confidential, we will only break your confidentiality if we are concerned that you are at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others.