Eight: Health professionals and peer support workers in mental health settings

In many Western countries mental health care institutions employ ‘peer support workers’ in professional teams. They are clients or former clients in mental health care who are trained and educated to transform their personal experience as a client into ‘experiential knowledge’ helping other clients. This is supposed to improve ‘client centeredness’ in mental health care. However, the rise and roles of peer support workers are not undisputed; mental health professionals – psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and therapists – have ambivalent responses. Peer support workers may challenge the status and dominance of traditional expert knowledge when they bring experiential knowledge into decision making processes. This challenge is strengthened by the development of peer support workers as a new group who may ultimately themselves professionalise. This chapter, focused on The Netherlands, explores from a neo-Weberian standpoint the relationship between mental health professionals and peer support workers. This is related to professional identities and positions, and also institutional surroundings, including how peer support workers and service organisations deal with risks and accountability. On the basis of empirical observational research, organisational conditions are shown to count more than occupational conditions. This underscores that the interweaving of new forms of knowledge in service processes must be organised.

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