Peer power

1st Sep 2020

Elizabeth Rimmer outlines the value of emotional support service.

peer support

We all know the phrases “a problem shared is a problem halved” and “it’s good to talk”, but we may not realise just how far the benefits of talking about how we feel – particularly when we’re feeling low – extend.

When we’re 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 friendly ear and a nudge in the right direction are 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 judgment and in confidence – to listen to us and offer help when things get on top of us.

For some of us, however, finding a friendly ear isn’t just a matter of talking to a friend or family member. Perhaps we don’t want to worry those who are closest to us. 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 be afraid to unburden ourselves 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. In a peer support situation, people use their own experiences to help others. Getting emotional support from people who have similar lived 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.

Mutual benefits

A review of more than 1,000 research studies on peer support found that it helps people feel more knowledgeable, confident and happy, and less isolated and alone. The reciprocity that occurs through peer support builds social capital, which in turn is associated with wellbeing and resilience. The opportunity to support each other is mutually beneficial. It helps us build empathy, and it fosters positive behaviours.

At LawCare, through our network of 100 trained volunteer peer supporters, we offer emotional support by telephone for those who are working in or have worked in the legal profession. Our supporters all have first-hand experience of legal education, training and practice and lived experience of a difficult time in their personal or professional lives.

They understand life in the law and all its challenges; this is what makes our support service unique and our supporters well-placed to help other legal professionals. Our peer supporters reflect the diversity of the legal profession across the UK and Ireland and are drawn from all branches of the legal profession and all career stages. They are from different age groups, genders and ethnic groups.

Our 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-judgmental. Peer supporters usually provide support over the course of two or three phone calls, but it can involve fewer or more calls depending on the individual’s need.

One of our supporters, Claire, who had herself experienced a critical illness, told us: “One of the real privileges of this is being able to say that I have stood where they stand and understand what they’re thinking, and have felt the anxieties they’re feeling. When you’ve had a critical illness, just going to work presents a whole new set of issues you’ve never experienced before. It can be an exceptionally bumpy ride. You often feel like you’re taking one step forward, then two steps back. It’s truly amazing to walk that journey with another person to a place where the rollercoaster is less bumpy.”

Common issues

The most common issues our peer supporters can help with are:

  • Anxiety;
  • Stress;
  • Depression;
  • Addiction;
  • Bereavement;
  • Relationship problems at work;
  • Returning to work after illness or a career break;
  • Worrying whether law is the right career for you; and
  • Facing disciplinary proceedings with your regulator or employer.

One user contacted us for support when she had turned to alcohol to help her deal with a heavy workload and stress at work. Following help from a LawCare peer supporter, she says: “I’m now back on track thanks to her. I’m doing well and billing, and the pressure has come away from me. I’m also not drinking. She was amazing. Thank you so much, keep up the good work, you saved me!"

Is peer support for you?

Many people find peer support helps them, but it is not for everyone. Before 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 own thoughts and emotions.
  • Am I comfortable hearing about someone else’s difficult experiences? Listening to someone else’s account of their experiences can help you feel less alone and introduce you to new ways of coping, but it may also be unhelpful for you.
  • Is it the right time? If you are in an acute crisis, peer support may not be right for you at the moment.

If you feel a peer supporter could help you, however, visit our website and complete the application form. One of our team will then be in touch by telephone to discuss your needs and to 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. While 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), we try our best! If we are unable to allocate a peer supporter, you are welcome to call our helpline for emotional support.

Finally, rest assured that anything you choose to 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. 

Find out more about LawCare’s peer support service at lawcare.org.uk

The LawCare helpline on 0800 279 6888 is open Monday to Friday, 9am-5.30pm.

Elizabeth Rimmer is Chief Executive at LawCare 

[email protected]

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