Peer Support Work in Substance Abuse Treatment: The Impact on Recovery

April 8, 2019

I am entering the world of research. The topic that brought me here had been brewing in my mind long before I began this journey and my intention is to find out more about peer support workers (PSW) in substance abuse treatment services and how their role impacts on their recovery.

I have always had a special interest in substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery. As a social worker, this interest has crept into my career when working with youth through prevention programs and assisting young people to seek and stay in treatment when needed. I have worked directly with substance abuse treatment in an in-patient rehabilitation centre and have found that working in this area has always come naturally to me.

Author: Courtney du Plessis

Through these practices I have had consistent interaction with people who are established in their recovery and use their experiences to make a living by assisting those who are newly entering recovery. I have worked with PSWs on raising awareness about available services, prevention campaigns and as part of a treatment team. The more I observed my inspirational PSW colleagues the more I wondered about the impact of their roles on their lives.

I have seen PSWs who have been in their roles for a few years, I have seen some newly enter their PSW role and I have seen some leave. It began to appear that the PSW role did not leave the PSWs unaffected. Some thrived in the role. It appeared that their PSW role reinforced all aspects of their recovery as they coached their clients through the early stages of recovery. They had a sense of strength and surety in their lives and in their work and appeared to be unmovable in their recovery. However, for others, concern began to grow. They seemed to struggle with stress, boundaries and constant reminders of their substance abuse challenges and would frequently reminisce of their ‘using days’. I observed PSW leave their roles and gain a sense of relief. I observed PSWs deteriorate when entering their roles. I witnessed tensions grow and even relapses.

I started questioning if the PSW role played a part in these differing experiences and if so, why some blossomed while others withered. I started to search for answers but kept finding dead ends. And this is what brought me to my current research topic ‘Peer support workers in substance abuse treatment services: Impact on recovery”. I hope to find clarity on this topic and build upon the understanding and knowledge we have about PSW in substance abuse treatment services.

Please see my poster on the literature review for this study at the 2019 Australian and New Zealand Addiction Conference.

Author: Courtney du Plessis

With a passion for the profession, I completed my four-year Social Work degree at Stellenbosch University in South Africa in 2010. I went on to work with students at an inner-city college offering counselling, community services and life skills workshops.

Later I went on to work in a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre offering counselling, workshops and information sessions while also doing online tutoring of social work students.

In 2016 my husband, daughter and I took a leap and moved to Australia where I began a new journey to pursue a career in Social Work education.


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