“Just Be a Light”: Experiences of Peers Working on Acute Inpatient Psychiatric Units

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Abstract

Objective: The study aimed to clarify the potential role and impact of behavioral health peer support providers on community hospital acute inpatient psychiatric units. Method: Qualitative interviews were conducted to examine perspectives of peer support providers (peers) and individuals who initially received peer services (recipients) during an inpatient stay on a community hospital psychiatric unit. Interviews elicited perspectives on interactions between peers and recipients, the role of peers vis-à-vis the clinical treatment team, and involvement of peers in discharge planning and transitions to community-based care. Fourteen interviews were completed (6 peers and 8 recipients of peer services); all were recorded, transcribed, and coded using a thematic analysis approach. Results: Emergent themes were grouped into 3 domains: (a) initial impressions and client engagement, (b) peer interventions to support discharge planning, and (c) shared or sharing experiences in an inpatient setting. Recipients described inpatient experiences as disempowering and humiliating and reported powerful positive initial reactions to peers who had had similar experiences but who also displayed competence and professionalism. Peers and recipients described strong emotional connections that differed from traditional attitudes and relationships with clinical staff. Peers described challenges and obstacles related to interactions with the clinical treatment team, and both peers and recipients strongly endorsed the role of peers in facilitating successful care transitions. Conclusions and Implications for Practice: Behavioral health peers can play important roles in acute inpatient psychiatric care, supplementing clinical treatment team activities and filling important gaps related to engagement, discharge planning, and care transitions.

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