Peer support is an exclusive club where no one wants to be a member. Just ask anyone who’s been through a tragedy.
Exactly what IS peer support, though? Generally speaking, it is when people who have lived through, or in some way experienced, the same trauma come together to help each other through the healing and recovery process by entering into a mutually beneficial relationship.
According to Molly Maurer, survivor of both the Route 91 Harvest Festival and Borderline mass shootings, “Peer support is a useful tool for any community to be able to have conversations with like-minded people. It can work for anyone.”
“Peer support is very powerful,” said Shane Meserve, deputy director at Give an Hour. “It’s so helpful to speak with someone who has shared the same experience.”
Peer Support with Route 91 Heals
Molly also is the peer support lead and program coordinator for Give an Hour’s Route 91 Heals program, which offers long-term support to survivors and family members of the Route 91 Harvest Festival who reside in Southern California. The program is a great example of a successful peer support network with 13 active peer supporters. It’s important to note that peer supporters are not mental health professionals or clinicians. Rather, they are volunteers with a lived experience who believe they have something to offer their peers that may help in their journey of healing.
Each Give an Hour peer supporter goes through a series of trainings in preparation to be paired with a peer who is seeking additional help. Approximately 20 hours of training happens in small groups and includes sessions on the following topics, to name but a few:
- Motivational interviewing – designed to guide people to motivate themselves to make positive changes
- Trauma-informed care – encourages the understanding of how trauma impacts a person’s life experiences and creating a safe environment in which they can receive effective care
- Active listening skills
- Coping mechanisms
- Suicide awareness and prevention
For Molly, she felt she had hit a plateau in her personal journey of healing and believed becoming a peer supporter would allow her to not only be of service to others but to continue her own healing.
“The peer supporter training was very beneficial,” said Molly. “It allowed me to listen to myself more and anticipate things so I could learn to help myself, which, in turn, gives me the opportunity to help others.”
According to Shane, acts of mass violence can be hard to explain to someone who wasn’t there and the feelings associated with these tragedies are complex and layered. Peer support is very reciprocal and is an added resource you don’t get in a clinical environment.
“There’s nothing like talking with someone who knows exactly what you went through,” said Molly.
Each person’s healing occurs at a different pace and in a different way. For those in the Route 91 community, several options are available for survivors, families of those lost or community members affected by the tragedy that include clinician-led support groups, one-on-one counseling and peer support.
“We’ve been able to create relationships and opportunities for people to connect in a safe environment where they can meet and be in a healthy place,” said Shane. “Which is remarkable considering the mass shooting happened in Las Vegas, Nevada, and all the Route 91 Heals programming occurs in Southern California.”
“Everyone is capable of being a peer supporter,” Molly added. “But it’s important to know when the time is right and you’re ready to step into that role.”