Wellways support worker Caitlin Kozmin recently completed the Wellways Intentional Peer Support Training. Here she talks about the experience and how it changed her relationships.*

The “elevator pitch” for Intentional Peer Support (IPS) goes something like this: “IPS is a way of conversing that involves `active listening’ and an awareness of people’s vulnerabilities. This mode of working strives for mutual growth with an emphasis on the relationship rather than the individual. IPS is not about helping but learning together, where both parties are able to hold responsibility.”

If you’re thinking what I was thinking before I did the training, it would go something like this…. “Whaaaat?”

I could understand what “active listening” was, and believed I had awareness surrounding people’s vulnerabilities, but I hadn’t quite understood what “relationship vs the individual” might mean. 
Having completed the training, I now understand more fully that I will constantly learn, grow and evolve with the people surrounding me. I have the keys to better understanding conversations. IPS is a tool that can be used in everyday life in order to more fully comprehend yourself as well as others. It does not give you answers to questions, but rather inspires you to ask more questions as you develop more awareness of yourself and others.

If you’re still thinking “what?” and scratching your head, let me explain further.

Think of a conversation you had recently where the person was asking for advice. What answer did you give? You might try to “problem solve” for them, but in asking more detailed questions you may find that the person did not want an answer at all… they wanted a listener, they needed a discussion to compile an answer for themselves. 

Now think of a time you were asking for advice. What did you really need from that conversation?

For example, you try on a really cute top, you know it looks good, but you fear your eyes might be deceiving you. “Does it look good?” This question is a fear-motivated response to the situation. Often, we ask the question and receive reassurance from a friend, “Yeah it looks great”. Even more often we dismiss that opinion. 

If my friend instead asks me “does it feel comfortable? Do you like the look of it?” questioning around the situation, we might get to the untold story. The untold story here might be that yellow was the colour of my school shirts, so now I feel like I’m not allowed to wear yellow, even if yellow is still my favourite colour. My problem was not with the top or my body as might be the assumption. The problem was with an association I had with the colour yellow.

I find that often we, as a society, are uncomfortable with the discomfit. If someone is struggling with communication often my default response is to jump in and rescue them and provide answers. This is a form of problem solving for others, as I discovered during my week of IPS training. 

The next time someone is struggling to find the words, I will sit with that discomfort and give them the time they need to finish their sentence. And if they are lost for words, instead of me telling them what to say, I will tell them how I am feeling in that moment. In doing this, I own my own discomfort, my vulnerabilities. 

In doing that I open up the space between me and you, creating a place with infinite possibilities.

* Wellways provides peer support training and we have peers working in most of our mental health and disability programs. Intentional Peer Support training is a framework for building relationships, so people can grow and develop together.  
Peers come together around shared experiences and the training offers a foundation for doing something different and creating change in other people’s lives.