As we look towards our second year (eek!) I will be planning to recruit a volunteer peer support facilitator to assist with facilitating our groups and growing our services.
I say 'will be' as there is quite a bit of work involved to allow us to support a volunteer and currently my brain is avoiding this...bear with us!
Anyway, I'm currently brainstorming - what qualities make an effective peer support facilitator?
So far I have come up with these skills and qualities:
A effective peer support facilitator is someone who:
has lived experience.
who can make people feel heard.
can reflect on individual contributions and provide affirmation to group members.
can model positive behaviour without being proscriptive.
has the ability be vulnerable.
can remain authentic within their own limits
can selectively share.
who strives to maintain respect.
can treat people as equals.
sets healthy boundaries and maintains them.
is aware of trauma and it's potential affects for individuals.
strives to uphold the power within their peers.
recognises the strengths and limitations of their own knowledge and of peer support as a discipline.
evolves in the role to strengthen qualities and learn new skills.
You may think it would be the most dominant or confident person, the one who seems most knowledable and assertive, but its not. Nor is it the person with the most educational qualifications.
Some of these skills need to be learned, I'd say most evolve naturally from our autistic lived experience. All need nurtured.
If you think you may not have these skills, well to counterpoint those thoughts...
You know what it's like to navigate the world as an autistic person, this is the key to our peer support offering which engenders a natural empathy with your autistic peers.
We know as a community and as individuals what it is like to be unheard and unseen and likley do not want our peers to experience similar.
Autistic people often have a inherent sense of fairness, equality and inclusion and we strive to apply this to all our experiences - this is essential for peer support facilitation!
We often know what it feels like to be treated as unequal in society and marginlised. For me this drives my desire to uphold and empower my peers and the autistic community. Autistic led peer support gives a platform to do so.
It is likely you will have experienced trauma. And though everyone will experience trauma in an individual way, this means you are aware of the effects trauma will have on a person and what benefits can be incurred from having access to safe spaces.
Skills that we may need help to nurture would include being (safely) vulnerable, authentic (true to ourselves), establishing healthy boundaries, knowing how to selectively share our own stories and active listening.
Active listening can be difficult. This method seeks to listen to understand and be non judgemental. As a society I feel we fall towards critical listening more, listening to understand, judge, form an opinion and reply. It is difficult to stand back from this conditioning and adopt a new way.
So my brainstorm turned into more of a stream of consciousness... but a useful exercise which not only made me feel less avoidant(!), it helps to outline the qualities peer support workers utilise when providing peer support. It's a skilled role!