As peer support specialists, we are the bridge between professional healthcare and the lived experiences of those we serve. Our role is unique, and our impact is profound. But what makes us effective? What is the secret ingredient that allows us to connect and inspire?
The answer lies in a concept that is as simple as it is profound: authenticity.
This post is all about this simple truth and the role it plays in peer support. We will discuss what it means, why it is important, and the effects it has on the helping relationship. If you are just starting out in the field, this post is a must read.
What is Authenticity in Relation to Peer Support?
Authenticity is defined as the alignment of our inner thoughts and feelings with our outward behavior. At least, that is how psychologists define it.
Basically, it’s about being genuine, transparent, and true to ourselves.
When it comes to peer support, authenticity is more than just a desirable trait.
It’s a requirement.
Just as we can tell when people are trying to be something they’re not, others can do the same with us. Authenticity is the foundation for trust in our helping relationships. Without it, we are simply another person trying to sell something.
Authenticity is Important in The Helping Relationship
The importance of authenticity in therapeutic relationships is well-documented. I know, I know… Peer support is not therapy. However, there are similarities that we can use in our work as peer support specialists.
A study examining psychologists’ perceptions of authenticity found that it plays a significant role in their work and therapeutic outcomes. In other words, they found when they were just being themselves, it proved beneficial in helping the individuals they worked with.
In all reality, this isn’t all that surprising. After all, how can we expect others to open up to us if we’re not willing to be open ourselves?
Being genuine to who we are is the secret ingredient for creating a safe and supportive space. Moreover, it’s how we build rapport with the individuals we serve, which is a fundamental peer support skill.
Authenticity and Congruence
The idea of authenticity is pretty similar to the concept of congruence. One of my personal heroes, Carl Rodgers, made this term popular. If you aren’t familiar with Carl Rodgers, I would definitely recommend checking out his work.
He was the pioneer of person-centered therapy and believed in holding individuals in unconditional positive regard. If you remember, “person-centered” is one of the fundamental principles and core competencies of peer support.
Anyway, Rogers identified congruence as one of the six conditions for therapeutic change. In his view, congruence refers to the therapist’s ability to be genuine and transparent in their interactions with clients.
In other words, to be authentic.
Rogers’ person-centered therapy emphasizes the intrinsic motivation of individuals to achieve positive psychological functioning. For the rest of us, this simply means that it focuses on the person’s natural desire to get better.
Rogers’ person-centered therapy emphasizes the intrinsic motivation of individuals to achieve positive psychological functioning.
For the rest of us, this simply means that it focuses on the person’s natural desire to get better.
In this method, the therapist takes a non-directive role, meaning they aren’t trying to convince or tell the person what to do. Instead, they create a caring and understanding space that helps the person think about and explore their own feelings and thoughts.
The goal of this approach is to promote self-understanding and growth. Moreover, it seeks to empower individuals to find their own solutions
Applying Authenticity in Peer Support
Like therapists, we as peer support specialists aim to promote self-understanding and growth. We also strive to empower those we serve to find their own solutions. And just as congruence is vital in person-centered therapy, authenticity is crucial in peer support.
Again, I am not trying to compare peer support to therapy. Rather, I just want to point out the similarities of the helping relationships. We can use these ideas to strengthen our relationships and provide meaningful support and encouragement.
The research supports the impact of authenticity, so why wouldn’t we use this to our advantage.
In truth, the fact that peer support is not therapy is a good thing. It’s our ability to share our lived experiences and connect on a deeper level that makes peer support what it is.
The Dangers of Being Inauthentic
When we portray ourselves to be something other than what we are, there is a great deal of risk involved. Not only can this be detrimental to the helping relationship, but it can leave us feeling hollow and depressed.
First, when it comes to the people we serve, there is always the risk of being found out.
It may sound dramatic, but it’s the truth. Whether conscious or not, there is the worry that someone will find out the truth about our situation.
We can be inauthentic in a multitude of ways. From acting like we know more than we do to portraying ourselves as stronger than we are.
Think about it.
If we act like we have everything figured out or that we no longer experience struggles, what message are we sending to the people we serve?
Well, it might be something along the lines of “if you are still experiencing problems, then you are not ok”. Alternatively, we may come off as holier than thou and push people away with that attitude.
Being open about our current struggles is what sends the message that maybe they can do this. Maybe they can be ok even if they are experiencing troubles.
It Gets Worse
The other side of being inauthentic, is that deep down… We know.
Regardless of what we show to others, we know when we are not being true to ourselves. Which in turn, can lead to problems and struggles in our own lives. Depression, anxiety, fear, and these are just to name a few.
There is a strong psychological drive to live up to who we say we are. When we can’t line up with what we are saying, we can begin to feel disappointed in ourselves. Not to mention, there is also the stress of being found out.
In the end, the personas that we show to the world only serve to isolate us further. This is because it prevents meaningful and true connection with others.
Part of being peer support is being a role model of healthy behaviors. When we model authenticity, we are doing what is right for those we serve. We are saying, “It’s ok to just be yourself”.
Just Be Yourself
To be clear, I am not trying to accuse anyone of being fake or acting like something they’re not. I am just simply reminding you to be yourself.
You, just as you are, it exactly what makes you effective.
As peer support specialists, we are just regular people. Just like the people we serve, we are in recovery from life’s challenges.
The only difference is that we have found something that works for us.
This is another reason why authenticity is important. When we are clear that we are just another person in recovery, that there is no magic in what we do, it gives people hope.
We are walking examples that it’s ok to have problems in life and that those problems don’t have to define you. Being genuine and showing people who we really are, lets them know its safe to do the same.
So, I hope this article gave you some things to think about. More than that, I hope it encourages you to show the authentic version of yourself.
If you would, leave a comment and share your thoughts about the role authenticity plays in peer support. The more we share about our experiences working in the field, the more we can learn from each other and become better in our roles.
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.