Peer grief support is an emerging field of practice that is especially applicable to helping people bereaved by suicide. For ages, those who have experienced grief themselves have offered to assist newly bereaved people, and now peer helper programs and training are among the forces transforming this means of support into a systematic practice.
A significant amount of suicide grief support is delivered by peers, especially through suicide bereavement support groups, and it would be valuable to take a look at lessons being learned in other areas where peer helpers are delivering services. One such area is the U.S. military, regarding which a white paper was recently published, "Best Practice Identified for Peer Support Programs" (download available). The document identifies the following "key ingredients ... [that] account for the special effectiveness of peer support interventions":
- Social support includes "emotional support, information and advice, practical assistance, and help in understanding or interpreting events."
- Experiential knowledge (particularly knowledge based on common experience) gives peer supporters "greater credibility as 'experts' in dealing with the problems and challenges faced by the person seeking support."
- Trust is present when the person being helped experiences the helper as honest, unselfish, and reliable.
- Confidentiality is the centerpost of effective peer assistance, in part because it is the basis for trusting the helper.
- Easy access is fundamental for obvious reasons: Even if a peer support program is extraordinary in every other way, it cannot be effective unless people who need help are able to take part in the program.