Pictured: Fay Jackson, Manager of Inclusion, tells how it is.
During the Intentional Peer Support Training event in May, the question of professional boundaries was raised. A medical practitioner, for example, has clear rules of conduct in place to protect both doctor and patient alike from impropriety, or even just the appearance of impropriety. The nature of Peer Work, however, seems to make it different from other professions. Does Peer Work lack boundaries, as some have suggested? When Fay Jackson addressed the IPS training group on this topic in May, she was very clear that it does have boundaries. This is a position which might be controversial to some, but which is our policy at Flourish Australia.
Fay Jackson, who was among the earliest Peer Workers herself, spoke about some of the disastrous things that have happened in the past when Peer Workers have operated without boundaries.
“Not having boundaries can be downright dangerous,” Fay said. She went on to mention cases where wills were changed, where suicides occurred.
It can be said that a Peer Workers’ role is to be a friend, but Flourish Australia’s ethos is clear that a Peer Worker’s core role is to support people to “build themselves.” This means that it’s best for the person to ultimately find their own friends, and not to develop a dependence on a Peer Worker.
“You can’t end up in bed with a person,” Fay said categorically.
“Yes, a Peer Worker can give a person a hug if the context calls for it.” For example, if there is a funeral or some similar strong reason. But: “The people who access our services are not to become enmeshed with you (as Peer Workers) or with Flourish Australia as a service provider.”
There is a need for transparency. Our Chief Executive Officer Pam Rutledge said that: “If you think something is a good idea, but you are not sure, there is always someone to talk to about it.”
Aidan Conway (General Manager, Operations) gave an anecdote to illustrate how Peer Workers should know when they’ve reached the point where they need to withdraw. He spoke of a music group that a Peer Worker had initiated. The worker gathered a group of people who accessed their service, and they went to various venues on several occasions. Eventually, it became a regular activity. After a while, the Peer Worker asked themselves: “What am I still doing in this group? It’s already taken on a life of its own.” And so the Peer Worker stopped accompanying the group.
Fay Jackson spoke about how some other services will co-opt Peer Workers into things which are really clinical.
“We don’t have to be mini-clinicians to prove our value. Peer Work is a profession in its own right that we need to have. No other profession drops the ‘return-to-hospital rate’ as much as Peer Work. We are needed as we are.”
Pam added that Peer Workers need to recognise that they are working alongside people who don’t have the same lived experience, and who have their own value to bring to the table. However, Peer Workers don’t need to justify themselves to other workers. “You don’t have anything to apologise for, being a Peer Worker.”