What is a Peer Mentoring Program? Why this Program is special.
Peer mentoring is a process in which an individual who is a "veteran" of a life experience helps another person currently coping with a similar life event and in need of support from a knowledgeable friend. Peer mentoring programs have been developed to aid people with a variety of medical conditions and physical disabilities, and to help their family members. Mentoring programs have also been created to assist people with employment, education and community integration.
The Brain Energy Support Team is prepared to launch a unique way of empowering both Survivors of Brain Injury and Caregivers for those who have experienced a brain injury. In the creation, management and support of two small business ventures, survivors/caregivers will have the opportunity to learn, practice and improve social, business and daily living skills. More importantly, it has the potential to create jobs that are lead by peers, embrace leadership and the entrepreneur spirit.
BEST has a history of leading collaborative teams to unified goals. These new business ventures will benifit from collaboration with other organization that serve individuals with disabilities and their caregivers.
Value of Peer Mentoring for Individuals with Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorders
The long-term effects of brain injury (BI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on the injured person and his/her family members have been well documented but are often misunderstood. Both of these can create circumstances that completely change relationships and family dynamics. BEST feels that "veterans" of BI and PTSD are strong and trusted allies of individuals who are learning to negotiate a new world with these challenges.
Individuals with BI can experience a variety of lifelong physical, cognitive and emotional challenges that often negatively affect quality of life. The toll on family members is also significant, with reports of emotional distress, family tensions, social isolation and decreased health and wellness. Because the benefits of providing social support and information are clear, historically professionals have provided these types of interventions during the early phases of injury and subsequent re-entry into the community.
Because the symptoms of PTSD and other trauma reactions change how a trauma survivor feels and act, traumatic experiences that happen to one member of a family can affect everyone else in the family. When trauma reactions are severe and go on for some time without treatment, they can cause major problems in a family.
A peer-mentoring program for individuals with BI and their families provides an alternative, and much needed, form of support during both the early and later phases of adjustment in the community. Peer support has been shown to be an effective buffer for stress, in both individuals with BI and family members, and has also been shown to increase one’s sense of personal empowerment and self-efficacy.
Peer mentoring is a good way of practicing social skills for the mentor and help on adapting and settling in for the peer partner. Most peer mentors are picked for their sensibility, confidence, social skills and reliability. The amount of time that peer mentors and peer partners meet varies according to the needs of the mentee. Some pairs may make contact once a month, while others may meet 3-4 times per month or more. It is usually advised that mentors and peer partners meet more often in the beginning of the relationship, in order to establish a good foundation. Mentors and peer partners may maintain contact through email, telephone or in person meetings. BEST will also set up social events for those participating in the program. These events provide good opportunities for increased social interaction between mentors and peer partners.
BEST's BI/PTSD Peer Mentoring Program:
BEST's mentoring program for persons with BI/PTSD and caregivers has been modeled after similar programs in the nation; including parent-to-parent mentoring for parents of special needs children and other BI peer-to-peer mentoring programs. The objective of BEST’s peer mentoring program is well defined and measurable. The effectiveness of the program should be monitored to ensure that the objectives are being met. One way to monitor the effectiveness of a program is to administer evaluations to the mentors and peer partners.
Skilled support staff are able to provide pre-screening, training and offer ongoing support to create valuable mentor-peer partner relationships. The compatibility of mentor and peer partner is a factor that is very important when choosing pairs. Mentors and peer partners may benefit from having similar backgrounds, interests and life experiences. Mentoring is usually done on a volunteer basis, although BEST is investigating the possibility of being able to pay mentors a monthly stipend and offer other benefits. Mentors often undergo training that will help guide them in the mentoring process.
Successful Peer Mentoring Programs involve individuals with TBI and family members that have been empowered in shaping their own program of mutual support. As partners, individuals formerly isolated after the onset of TBI will have the benefit of a connection with someone who has ‘been there’. As a direct result of the program, mentors will be empowered and serve as resources to others in the community. This type of program is a ‘win-win’ situation for all involved.
What is a Peer Partner?
A Peer is an individual with a brain injury or a family member who possesses a willingness to have a Mentor's support, encouragement and ideas. Peers share challenges and accomplishments with their Mentors to gain a better understanding of the process of adjustment to life with brain injury.
For up to one year, Peers and Mentors connect by phone or e-mail at mutually convenient times. Mentors are interviewed, screened, and trained before being matched with Peers to provide the best possible experience for both. Efforts are made to match Peers with Mentors who have similar backgrounds or circumstances.
What is a Mentor?
Mentors are volunteers who have a personal experience with brain injury; a Mentor can be an individual with a brain injury, a family member, partner or friend of an individual with a brain injury, or a caring community member. Mentors are interviewed, screened, and trained before being matched with Peers to provide the best possible experience for both. Efforts are made to match Mentors with Peers who have similar backgrounds or circumstances.
Once a Mentor is trained and a match is made, the Mentor provides confidential, consistent support to their Peer through phone and e-mail. Mentors help their Peers deal with the challenges associated with brain injury and celebrate their accomplishments, while gaining skills and confidence to take charge of their own future.
Characteristics of Successful Mentoring Relationships
Because mentoring relationships are between individuals, each is unique; however, all effective mentoring relationships have certain things in common. For example, the longer the relationship continues, the more positive the outcome. Individuals who perceive high-quality relationships with their mentors experience the best results. Successful TBI and PTSD mentoring program practices will include:
- Pre-screening of mentors to ensure suitability
- Making structured and regularly monitored mentoring matches
- Providing training for mentors, both before a match and periodically throughout the relationship
- Focusing on the needs and interests of the mentee, not the expectations of mentors
- Ensuring that appropriate levels of visibility and accountability are built into the mentoring relationship, including the relationship between the supervisory staff and the mentor
- Ensuring community resources are understood and utilized
All mentors will attend a full-day training workshop focused on enhancing their communication, listening and advocacy skills, as well as increasing their knowledge of TBI/PTSD and community resources. A smaller group of mentors—the Hospital Advocacy Team (HAT)— will receive additional training, to provide peer support for newly injured individuals and to play an active role in recruitment of potential partners within hospital settings and support groups.
Recruitment of individuals in need of peer support will be made through outreach to acute care hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and support groups by the HAT team members; through a BIAWA phone hotline; through meetings with independent living centers, rehabilitation hospitals and support groups; via presentations at local and state TBI conferences; and through a notice on BEST website. All persons seeking peer support will complete an interview with program staff to determine their support needs and suitability for the program. The individual will then be ‘matched’ with a specific mentor who had a common medical and/or personal background.
The Process of a Successful Peer Support Program
The following is a summary of the basic procedures and important concepts involved in BEST's BI/PTSD Peer Support Program:
- Structure: Program Staff will provide the Mentors with manuals, procedures, notes, directions, schedules, calendars, information, flyers, updates, summaries, lists, follow-ups, reminders, more reminders, and even more reminders. The structure provided will ensure minimal misunderstandings.
- Involvement: Program Support Staff will meet monthly with all mentors. BEST will offer social get-togethers so that the pairs have the opportunity to get to know each other better. A cohesive group is important to foster so the pairs will receive emotional support from each other.
- Feedback: Make sure each and every one of the peer mentoring participants knows that he/she is an integral part of the program and it would not be the same without them. Each participant has his/her own special way of supporting. Mentors will be acknowledged frequently and differently for their contributions.
- Opportunity: BEST will keep the mentors interested by letting them come up with different ideas for the program. They will be provided updates on the expansion of the program as it progresses.
- Education: Refreshing the Mentors and Peer Partners with handouts and training materials frequently will be an important aspect of training.
- Support: The participants will know that support is available to them at any time. If they are having a problem or just need someone to talk to about the visits, they will know whom they can call for support. The phone number will be easily accessible in case of an emergency.
- Ownership: BEST will strive to create a feeling of ownership. Mentors will be asked to give updates or report information to the group at the meetings. This will encourage the Mentors to take personal responsibility. Documentation forms will be provided for the Mentors to utilize after each visit. The Peer Supporters will be accountable to document their visits. Encourage them to have their own style of supporting and reinforce their differences.
What has worked in other peer mentoring programs?
Creation of BEST's Peer Mentoring program is based on looking at best practices from many different types of Peer Mentoring programs. (See Appendix 2 for a case study from one such program.)
Some of the following approaches have been important to successful programs:
- The duration of the partnership and its intensity was a decision made by the mentor and partner together.
- The majority of contacts were made via phone, with personal contact or e-mail also used.
- On average, partnerships lasted seven months. Partnerships ended either because the partner’s needs were satisfied or the partner elected to end the partnership. Focusing on the peer partner's goals lead to more successful results.
What were the benefits of peer support for peer partners in these programs?
Partners reported many positive effects of program participation on their lives:
• More knowledge about TBI
• Better ability to cope with the consequences of TBI, including depression and sadness
• Improved quality of life
Partners also reported that program participation had impact on:
• Social support from family, friends and community
• Coping with anger and anxiety
What were the benefits of peer support for mentors in these programs?
Mentors described benefits in six areas:
• Increased ability to cope: better equipped to face challenges, to communicate
effectively and to be advocates for themselves and others in the community
• Satisfaction in helping others
• Shared experiences with another person
• Learning more about TBI and community resources
• Increased self-confidence and acceptance of brain injury
• Decreased isolation and improved ability to get along with others
(See Appendix 1 for comments collected from peers, mentors, and family members regarding their peer mentoring program experience.)
Comments from participants in the NY/NJ TBI Peer Mentoring Program
From peer partners with a TBI:
- “I am more open to people about what happened to me.”
- “My mentor stood by me through all the ups and downs and explained to me why I was going through that. She even heard me crying a lot.”
- “The program helped me with communication and socialization. It helped me get out more and talk to other people. I have reincorporated myself into society more.”
- “The mentoring program allowed me to speak my mind and be the way that I am.”
- “The mentoring program made me see that there were people out there willing to help.”
From family members:
- “With time and more knowledge, I learned to separate a little from my daughter and her problems and to understand that she also has a life. I can be there for my daughter, but that is not my only role.”
- “The mentoring program gave me more of a feeling about how TBI can affect members of the family.”
- “I knew that if my own personal support group failed, I would have somewhere else to go to pick me up and put me on my feet again.”
Comments from Mentors:
- “I am able to deal with my emotional problems better because I have learned that I am not the only one who is going through this problem.”
- “I have enjoyed feeling as though I could be helpful to someone—that from my family’s misfortune, something good can be found.”
- “The mentoring program is a precious link for most. Because we can’t remember yesterday and even sometimes what we had for breakfast, brain injured individuals benefit uniquely from having a mentor. It is often the mentor who instills hope, energy and joy by reminding us of all we have accomplished. The program has defined the meaning of sharing and concern.”
- “The opportunity to connect with someone else who has been through a similar trauma and who has experienced the same kind of family upheaval and who is trying to rebuild her own life serves to lessen the isolation that trauma can bring. My partner has enriched my life with her courage.”
- “It has let me see how far I have come since the bad, confused beginning of this journey. It let me feel proud that I was accepted to be a mentor; it made me feel I must be okay if they think I can help others. It has given me the courage to try harder and to overcome some of my remaining problems. I wish I had a mentor when I was starting the journey of my recovery.”
Peer support in the community: initial findings of a mentoring program for individuals with traumatic brain injury and their families.
Hibbard MR, Cantor J, Charatz H, Rosenthal R, Ashman T, Gundersen N, Ireland-Knight L, Gordon W, Avner J, Gartner A.
Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, New York 10029, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org
OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the impact of a community-based peer support program for individuals and their family members following traumatic brain injury (TBI).
SETTINGS: Community-based sample of family members and individuals with traumatic brain injury.
PARTICIPANTS: Twenty individuals who had participated in the peer support program (11 individuals with TBI and 9 family members).
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Quantitative and qualitative approaches were used: a retrospective structured interview assessing self-reported impacts of peer support on empowerment, quality of life, mood, skills and knowledge, and social supports; an in-depth qualitative interview with a subgroup of family members focused on the specific benefits/limitations of the peer support program.
RESULTS: Participants in the peer support program reported positive impacts of peer support on increasing their knowledge of TBI, enhancing their overall quality of life, improving their general outlook, and enhancing their ability to cope with depression post TBI. The peer support program was reported to have had a minimal impact on enhancing social support from families, friends, and the community, with varying impacts noted on levels of happiness, coping with anger and anxiety, communication with professionals, and control over one's life. Qualitative analysis suggests the merits of this type of community-based support and areas of improvement for the peer support program itself.
CONCLUSIONS: Preliminary data suggest that peer support is a promising approach to enhancing coping for both individuals and their family members after TBI.