What good peer support looks like

Randy Johnson (blue shirt) in a team building exercise to build good peer support in Kansas city

Randy Johnson (blue shirt) in a team building exercise to build good peer support in Kansas city

A story with an example of good peer support:

Lots of people ask what really good peer support looks like. Here’s Ken Braiterman, our board chair’s story of how he build himself a great peer support team: http://kenbraiterman.com/how-i-built-the-ability-to-be-happy/

This post is a three way conversation that kind of started between Corinna West, and Adinah, our volunteer coordinator, and John, her good friend who is also a psychiatrist. We’re posting this conversation below to illustrate four things. 1) Good peer support has to be an exchange among equals who value each other, no matter who they are or their roles. This is the mutuality principle taught by Shery Mead, the inventor of Intentional Peer Support. 2) Almost everyone needs good peer support at some given time in their life. 3) Sometimes you just have to grieve your losses  4) And sometimes when you let it all hang loose really cool things happen.

Or as Corinna’s favoritest former boss, Randy Johnson used to say about good peer support, “Vulnerability is the greatest thing we bring to our jobs.”


I went through a very tough week a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been trying to figure out lately why my participation in several advocacy arenas has been very emotionally challenging. Then I read the Hunger Games Trilogy which was cool in that the main character is a lot like me – someone who is not afraid to fight and sometimes does it impulsively. She gets mad and sometimes hurts people she cares about but then feels bad about it. She ends with a kind of unwanted leadership role in solving a tough challenge. She’s dealing with her own trauma issues, too, and how that impacts her life. (I didn’t spoil the plot – go get the books!)

In my case my trauma issues are about many of the things in my life I’ve lost due to being labeled and medicated inaccurately for a disease when I was just suffering temporary emotional distress. I had to spend some time grieving the things I’ve lost to the psychiatric system like my first husband, my chance to have kids, or my full-ride Ph.D. fellowship program.

Adinah got back a couple of weeks later and said. “Yes, I”ve been going through a lot of the same greiving process.”
Adinah said, “I emailed my good friend John, who is also a psychiatrist.  Here’s what I wrote  him:

I feel low because I just feel like I want to be successful and it’s not happening.  For some reason I always have setbacks and I am not able to achieve what I want.  I was telling the lady at voc rehab while she my resume, that I am so frustrated by my many limitations.  She was pretty taken aback and reminded me that what I have achieved is a lot, and probably a lot more than what people would have expected me to do given all that I faced.  She had asked me “about my disability”, so I told her about my PTSD and everything I went through in early childhood, and how in some ways, it still continues because I still move awkwardly and people just don’t want to deal with other people’s disabilities or people with disabilities, unless they are getting a paycheck.  So I am treated very poorly or on the reverse side I am pitied.  I try not to internalize it but I’m not Wolverine, LOL, it’s not like I can be wounded continuously and immediately heal it.  Sometimes, my level of persistence just feels like sheer stupidity.  How many times do I have to fall and get back up again before it just becomes either stupid or insane?

I had told the lady at voc rehab about my PTSD and she wanted to know if I’d had it since birth.  I told her I don’t know about it being congenital, because at birth, you’re not traumatized by life yet.  So then I told her about a lot of the horrible things in my childhood (I just listed them, no explanation) and I said that at a certain point, you can’t feel safe anymore, it just becomes like you’re terrorized by life.  Her eyes welled up with tears.
Of course, I move on and persist because that’s what people do, and apparently I don’t know any other way to be.  I live and laugh and love in spite of it all.  But I swear to God, not to keep singing the same old song and dance, it was so horrible that when I went for psychiatric help, they all told me that I was genetically and biologically defective with no hope of ever getting better, only “managing”.  It was like my worst, extreme, deepest fear, and the ultimate authority figures of our culture were saying it as an absolute fact.  Some days, I am not sure I can ever get over that.  I don’t anger about it anymore – which is good – but it’s more just a hole in my heart and a feeling that if these people are the “experts” than I really don’t have anywhere to turn.
 Adinah says, “Then John wrote back the most wonderful thing… (remember, he is a psychiatrist, but also really just a friend)”:
Well I am here whenever you need me. I am an expert too and experts dont know jack about what people are capable of or what the future holds for them. It disgusts me when they tell people things that crush their spirit. Psych is so caught up in ensuring its survival it uses people up and ruins them just to ensure the neediness is perpetuated. The fact you escaped it is testament to your strengths!
So then Corinna got this wacky idea to try freestyling a poem in writing, because it’s kind of like journaling, about their joint situations:
Hope you be feeling OK right now but if not take some time to make a list pow
Taking down people in power every hour with our declarations together manifestations
Of how we get through extremes of need with out their wracking devastations
of our ability to see just how we feel like a human being. Seeing, beleiving
You believe I’m a human being? Or how my friend Adinah be sitting through scheming
how to build back life on the other side of knowing how that lies be growing
to new normality formality like get your md degree without even any need for honesty.
Seen? Understand? If you going to be the MAN you better listen to what I going through
Bullshit my life been knowing, true, cause I ain’t faking what’s hurting and taking
my place right here right now in reality. Instead you got greed
giving my knowledge instead of caring for my sowing into the future.
time to build a new life, let this coccoon sit into the by and by, find a meaning
for all your deceiving cause it’s time to be receiving out into my strongness
Let it start revamping our idea of struggle
let me and my dog spend all day in cuddles and
my son run round, shout joy and find a bug hole
up underneath the porch or in the nearest itchiest big tree climb
unwind and make a planet, stars shining round the clam list
I’m shutting up now bout the problems cause I need some ice cream
beer and strawberry robbed from
my freezer

Then this spawned a totally cool business idea that Corinna sent to Adinah that you can now vote on: Tell us what we should name this wacky idea that came out of good peer support: https://www.facebook.com/WellnessWordworks

I was thinking of calling this wacky project something like Guerilla Poetry Circles and applying to Creative Capital for it. I’d be engaging people in my community organizing events. What I’d do is go to my bicycling, poetry, Judo, gardening, entrepreneurship and mental health things.  At each one, I’d grab a 4-5 person audiences and say, “Wanna hear a poem?” I’ve always been able to get at least some people to say yes to this during these events. Then I’d do a spoken word poem. Then I’d say, “Now you help.” Then do a second poem, freestyle or made up on the spot with information about the lives of each of the 4-5 people in our circle. They’d jump in when they could and someone would video the whole thing.

It ties in with my general artistic vision and business vision which is to create a whole new mental health system where 80% of people recover in 2 years or less and never need treatment again. It also brings art to people who never usually experience it, spreads fun and joy and can tie into the Google Gigabit project where ONLY Kansas City has 100 times faster internet.

What does good peer support look like to you? Do you have a great story?

Wordworks Blog Author: Corinna West

Corinna West is the founder and creative director of Wellness Wordworks, and is an Olympic Team Member and has a Masters Degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Her Instant Peer Support might be the first in the mental health sector to remove the need for government and charity funding by creating a profitable interaction involving only our business and our direct customers.

2 comments to What good peer support looks like

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    […] when the recovery movement says: You get past emotional distress by talking to peers and taking care of […]

  • The Biochemical Basis for “Mental Illness” – Finally Solved! | Mad In America

    […] So we figured out that I can’t skip a workout for more than about 24 hours in a row and we drove together to E.H. Young Riverfront Park in Riverside, MO. I ran sprints around the banks of the Missouri River with him watching me and the sea gulls that fly all the way to the Midwest for some reason. Then I tried to teach him how to throw a frisbee golf disc. He didn’t like it that much because it was raining that day and although he’s a super big baseball fan he’s not much of a thrower. And disc golf is thrown backhanded anyway so none of that really mattered, because what matters most of all, is that we had fun and spent a day together in nature, in beauty, and in companionship. This is what good peer support looks like.  […]

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