SHAPE: The Basic Elements of Peer Support

What SHAPE will you create?

SHAPE is an acronym created by Positive Ways to help us remember the five key elements of Peering. Peering is about understanding that we are all inter-connected and that by pooling our collective knowledge and experiences we can help each other to overcome life’s challenges. This will enable us all to move from struggling or even surviving into a life where we thrive. The five elements of the acronym are Support, Hope, Advocacy (of Self), Personal responsibility and Education; I will look at each of these elements in more detail.

Give and receive support

Support is giving or receiving the help that is needed. It is being kind to oneself and others. Listening when someone’s had a bad day or, conversely, being listened to. You can support yourself by developing good behaviours that create positive effects in your life.

A personal example of support is when I took a friend and peer to a hospital appointment. Although it felt hard, I have reflected back to a friend that I felt they were not looking after themselves as support can be pointing out what they perhaps cannot see for themselves. It is important to do this without judgement or the expectation that our advice will be followed. True support is given without any anticipation of it being returned directly from the person we have supported and understanding that, as we develop more connections with our peers, we will always be able to access the support we need when we need it. It is an extremely important part of our essential human needs that we can give as well as receive support (attention). When I feel things are getting too much for me, I will often reach out to my friends; not to ask for support but to give them some attention. This helps me by stopping my mind going into a spin about an issue by giving it something more positive to focus on.

Hope tiles

Hope is trusting that no matter how bad things look in the moment that it will pass and inevitably lead to improvements in your situation. It is focusing on the positive aspects in your life and building on them. It is the belief that you will succeed. I had a recent interaction with a peer at a PoppIn where they were feeling dejected about a course they were taking that I have also recently completed. I listened to their experience and found it was similar to my own in that they were finding the material quite difficult to assimilate through the online videos. I shared my experience and explained that I had been able to get through it and pass. I also offered to chat to them if they needed further support. They left at the end of the evening feeling a lot more positive and hopeful about the course being able to complete the course themselves.

Speaking up for yourself

Advocacy (of Self) is being able to voice what you need when you need it. It is having the confidence to be able to express a view that may differ from others. It’s being able to state when you feel others behaviour towards you is unacceptable. In the medical model of mental health, this is often suppressed as the doctors and psychiatrists can believe that a person with mental health issues doesn’t know what is best for them. My personal experience of self-advocacy is that I now feel confident to stop a conversation that I don’t feel comfortable to continue; I will explain, calmly, that I do not wish to continue this conversation at this moment and tell them whether I feel I will be willing to come back to the conversation at a later date or not.

Moving towards our goals

Personal responsibility is taking ownership of your experience. It is understanding that you have authority over yourself and holding yourself accountable for what you say and do. This can be seen when someone understands their own motivations and sets themselves achievable targets to keep them moving forwards. Personal responsibility is also knowing what is for you to be accountable for and what is for someone else. It does not support us to take on for other people what they should handling for themselves. My own example of this is I take the time to look at my habits and behaviours while I was completing a course and I realised that I left the study until the last minute, which put me under a lot of pressure as I am also a bit of a perfectionist. In the past, this has meant that I have failed to complete courses as I have got stuck and the deadline has passed. I understood that I needed to make changes to my patterns if I wanted to be successful and achieve my ambitions.

Learning is important

Education is developing yourself, gaining knowledge. It is learning new skills to grow. An example of this is to take a college or personal development course, such as ALF’s resilience course. It could also be taking time to be more mindful to understand your motivations for behaviours or what needs you have met or not met. By keeping your mind active with new and positive things will help you to stop focusing on old and destructive habits and patterns. I have recently undertaken a teacher training course. This has helped me by highlighting areas I can get stuck and possibly need to develop, such as not liking using forms designed by others blocking me from completing an assignment. I felt that as it was for a course I had to use the form provided to create a lesson plan but it did not feel intuitive to use for me. I was able to see this blockage and understand where similar situations had stopped me in the past. I eventually tweaked the form to support me complete the assignment.

Everything is linked

Each of these aspects of peer support are inter-linked.

Developing skill in one of these aspects will automatically help you develop the skills in others. By asking for support, you are developing self-advocacy and personal responsibility. You are also displaying hope as you trust that someone will be there to support you. To know what support you require, you must have educated yourself. Sometimes, when we are struggling, we may think that we need to receive attention from another person; however, occasionally, it can be that the best thing we can do is to give attention and get it away from negative thought patterns in our brains. It takes time to learn when you need to give or receive attention. Also, it is a part of learning self-advocacy to learn to take personal responsibility for how we say what we need or want to say. Can we find a way to say it that the recipient will be more able to understand where we are coming from? It is all well and good speaking up for ourselves but, if we alienate everyone around us by speaking without tact and diplomacy where it’s needed, then we will be reducing our support network.


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