The Hidden Challenges of Working in Peer Support

Let me start first by saying, working in peer support is absolutely incredible. This article isn’t meant be a criticism or to scare you from pursuing a career in this field. That being said, there are some challenges to working in peer support. 

You see, peer support is all about connecting with others on a personal level, understanding their struggles, and empowering them to overcome obstacles. It’s a role that’s filled with empathy and compassion.

Getting to be a part of, and witnessing positive change take place in people’s lives is amazing.

But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Behind the scenes, there are hurdles that can take a toll on your emotional well-being, blur the line between work and personal life, and leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Table of Contents

The Highlights to Working in Peer Pupport

The truth is, there are pros and cons to every job. When it comes to peer support, the cons can be avoided, or at least managed with adequate self-care.

Like I said, I’m not trying to scare you off, but I won’t sugar-coat things either. Throughout this article, I’ll share my own experiences and shed light on the lesser-known aspects of peer support.

However, I want to give you the whole picture. So, before I tell you the downsides, I want to take a minute to highlight the good parts too.   

Peer Support is Rewarding

When I first embarked on my journey as a peer support worker, I was drawn to the incredible benefits and rewards that awaited me. And let me tell you, they are real and truly amazing. One of the most fulfilling aspects of peer support is the personal connection you establish with others.

There is something special when you can connect with someone over shared experiences. More specifically, the more difficult moments in life.

It’s like forming an instant bond. Only now, you’re there to lend a helping hand and be a pillar of support.

Witnessing the change in others is another highlight of this role. It’s incredibly rewarding to see someone overcome their challenges, grow stronger, and regain their confidence.

Being part of that transformation is a privilege that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Moreover, peer support work allows you to contribute to the creation of a supportive community. You become a vital link in the chain, connecting individuals who may otherwise feel isolated or misunderstood.

We are stronger together.

The Downsides to Working in Peer Support

The initial attraction to peer support seems too good to be true. I mean think about it, it’s an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, to be an example of hope. Not only that, but you are learning, growing, and becoming a better version of yourself in the process!

With that said, there is a dark side to this story.

One that goes hand in hand with helping individuals through some of the challenging moments of their lives. So let’s get to it and look at some of the downsides to working in peer support.

The Emotional Toll

As much as I love working in peer support, it’s important to acknowledge the emotional toll it can take. Constantly being in a state of empathy, absorbing the struggles and pain of others…

It can be exhausting.

One of the toughest aspects is simply hearing all of the traumatic experiences. There is so much pain in the world and some of the stories are truly heartbreaking. Especially, seeing as how it becomes to easy to see myself in others struggling with mental health and addiction

This can be triggering for us as peer support workers. Mainly, because there is the possibility or resurfacing our own past traumas and causing emotional distress.

This exposure to intense emotions can even lead to vicarious trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Slowly you may have transformed from a helper to one in need of help. It’s important to talk about this, to identify the wounds you carry.

Taking care of our own mental health becomes even more crucial when handling these types of situations. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, the burnout rate for mental health professionals is 21%-67%.

Mostly, because of this very reason. 

possibilities of conflict

Adding to the emotional toll, clients can sometimes become aggressive or uncooperative. Believe me, I have seen more than one physical altercation during my time in this career.

If you are not prepared for it, it can be a little overwhelming

First, there is the stress of having to manage these moments effectively, without losing our cool. Then on top of that, it’s worse because here you are only trying to help this person and they are basically telling you to…

Well, I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest.

This can be super frustrating, especially when we are trying to maintain a safe and supportive environment. And like I said before, there’s also the risk of facing physical abuse. While it’s not something that happens very frequently, it is a very real possibility.

Added Pressure From Some Individuals

While the goal is to empower clients and provide them with the tools for self-reliance, there’s also risk of them becoming overly dependent on us. Instead of viewing us as a supportive tool, they may start relying on us as a crutch.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but that this can end up hurting both parties.

It can hinder their personal growth and resilience, as well create a sense of overwhelming responsibility for us. Because of this, its crucial to establish clear boundaries and expectations for the peer support relationship. I will give you the same advice that was given to me.

Never work harder than the individual you support. 

Difficulty Separating Personal Life From Work Life

Another challenge in peer support is keeping our personal lives separate from the work we do. In our roles, we end up forming deep connections with the individuals we serve. It’s easy for their struggles to seep into our own lives.

We might find ourselves constantly thinking about them, worrying about their well-being, even when we’re off the clock. This can blur the boundaries and make it challenging to find balance. I

Working in an addiction treatment facility, sometimes I find myself wondering about people after they have left. 

The difficult reality of this work is that sometimes things don’t have a happy ending. There have been several instances where clients have left the program and then later we discover that they have overdosed. This is what hurts the most.

It’s another unfortunate, and tragic, challenge of working in peer support.

Lack of Training and Resources

Support workers often face a lack of resources and adequate training. While our hearts are in the right place, we may not always have the knowledge or skills to handle certain situations.

Insufficient training programs and limited access to supervision and support can leave us feeling ill-equipped, and unsure of our abilities.

Don’t get me wrong, the training programs that we go through to get certified are great. They are packed with good information, and we get a solid foundation in peer support.

However, there are many different roles that you might find yourself in as a peer support professional. Because of this, these programs can’t cover everything.

There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.

In fact, this is the exact reason why we created MHAPSS. We hope to fill this gap and provide individuals in the field the resources, tools, and knowledge to help them thrive.

Moreover, we believe that as a community we can help each other grow, while shining a light on the important work we do.

Limited Growth Opportunites

Peer support work is often considered an entry-level position. While the job itself is rewarding, the opportunities for career advancement and raises can be limited in some areas.

Depending on your situation, this might lead to challenges in achieving professional growth within the field.

Let’s be honest though, if you are working in the mental health field, you’re probably not doing it for the money. In the grand scheme of things, even counselors and therapists are severely underpaid in most areas.

That being said, there is good news.

Peer support is continuing to grow. Which means, there will be more and more opportunities in the field.

Not only that, but many states are developing more comprehensive training programs that allow for a wider scope of practice. 

Personally, I think this is amazing and that it will only improve the mental health services within our communities.

Unfair Employers

One of the biggest challenges in peer support really just has to do with where you work. Some employers see peer support as a source of cheap labor and will take advantage of the opportunity.

Instead of putting you in a position where you can be effective and make a real difference, they may have you doing busy work.

While its not something that happens all the time, occasionally there may be clinical staff who look down on peer support roles. This can be a huge challenge, simply because it is so discouraging.

No one wants to work somewhere where they don’t feel valued.

Finally, when it comes to employers, sometimes you are given a position but never any training. Imagine being hired and then not having anyone explain what it is that you should be doing. Trust me, it’s not fun.

To Be Fair

Honestly though, this isn’t always the fault of the employer. Because peer support is relatively new in many areas, some agencies are still trying to figure out how to effectively implement these services.

Still, it doesn’t make it any easier.

Managing the Challenges of Peer Support

As I mentioned before, most of these challenges and difficulties can be managed with self-care and a little support. So, before we end this post, let me give you some strategies you can use.

Self-Care and Well-being

I know I’m repeating myself, but I can’t stress this enough. Dealing with the challenges of peer support requires prioritizing self-care!  

Here’s the bottom line, we can’t continue helping others if we are not maintaining our own well-being.

It might be practicing mindfulness, making time for your hobbies, or seeking support through counseling. Either way, taking that time to recharge and engage in something meaningful (aside from your job) is crucial.

This is how I have managed to keep balance and positivity in my own life.

Doing something that is just for you is an incredible way to not only deal with stress but to just have some fun. If I could leave you one thing however, it would be to get enough sleep, eat healthy, and incorporate exercise into your routine. Ok, I know that is three things but still.

If you can manage to take care of those areas of your life, then you will already be ahead of the game when it comes to self-care.

Supervision and Guidance

As for the rest of it, make sure you are utilizing your supervision hours to get insights and guidance. If you are not already required to do supervision hours, then you can always request to do so.

Seriously, it can be a life saver if you use the time wisely.

This also give you the opportunity to learn from another professional and improve your skills. Moreover, it provides the space for you to advocate for yourself if you have concerns. Collaboration is valuable, take advantage of that time.

Continuous Learning

Finally, never stop learning. Take every chance you get to expand your knowledge and expertise. This not only allows you to provide better support, but it makes you more valuable professionally.

Join groups and communities (like MHAPSS!) so you can connect with others. This allows you to seek out advice and learn from one another’s ideas. I mean, peer support is all about shared experience right?

Why not use this to our advantage so we can become the best we can be?

Plus, if you sign up for our newsletter you will get insights, ideas for discussion topics, and updates into all the new things we are doing. 

Personally, I love learning new things. I am constantly taking new classes and reading everything I can. Honestly, I can’t even tell you how much this has helped me in my career. More than that, it has helped me in my own path of recovery

Embracing The Balance

Alright, so working in peer support comes with some challenges, but what job doesn’t? Yes, it can be stressful, it can be demanding, and it can sometimes be heartbreaking. However, it can also be a life-changing experience.

Moreover, each day we are given the opportunity to put some good out into the world.

While the downsides exist, the rewards and benefits of peer support are equally, if not more, significant. The connections we form, the positive change we witness, and the sense of purpose we derive from helping others make it all worthwhile.

So, to all my fellow peer support specialist’s, recovery coaches, peer counselors and mentors, let’s stand strong. Let’s support one another and continue to be a force for good in a world that needs us.

By embracing the balance and leaning into discomfort, we can make a difference one story at a time.

Have you experienced challenges while working in peer support?  Leave a comment and let us know! We want to know what things are like in your part of the world

Frequently asked questions

How can peer support workers manage the emotional toll of their work?

Make sure to practice self-care and take time to prioritize your own well-being. Additionally, don’t hesitate to reach out for support if you need to. Just because you are helping others, doesn’t mean that you stop taking care of yourself.

What resources are available for peer support workers?

A few good resources for peer support specialists include:,, and Additionally, check with your local peer support organization for resources and support. Many of these organizations offer information and training that is geared specifically towards peer support professional development.

What are some ways peer support workers can advocate for their field and improve working conditions?

Get involved in professional associations and networks dedicated to peer support. By actively participating in discussions, committees, and events, we can be a part of shaping the field and improving its practices. Similarly, you can reach out to policymakers, government officials, and stakeholders involved in mental health and social services. Engaging in conversations, sharing insights, and advocating for the needs of peer support specialists can bring about positive changes.

Why is supervision important for peer support workers, and how can they access it?

In many cases supervision is required for peer support specialists. It gives us the opportunity to reflect on our experiences while receiving guidance and feedback. Moreover, it’s a place were we can gain insight and improve our skills. Peer support specialists can usually access supervision through the organization they work for. Alternatively, they can ask colleagues and others in within the field for recommendations as to a mentor or individual supervisor.

Elijah Meason


Elijah Meason is a Certified Peer Support Worker in the State of New Mexico. He is a SMART Recovery facilitator and is working toward getting his Masters degree in social work. He is currently working at a dual diagnosis treatment center helping individuals overcome mental health and addiction challenges.

Elijah Meason


Elijah Meason is a Certified Peer Support Worker in the State of New Mexico. He is a SMART Recovery facilitator and is working toward getting his Masters degree in social work. He is currently working at a dual diagnosis treatment center helping individuals overcome mental health and addiction challenges.

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