The 1900s and early 2000s were a time period in which peer-support really ‘came of age’. With the founding of widely-recognized groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous to a mental-health revolution in the 60s to internet-based groups of the 2010s, the last century has yielded a lot of innovation, attention, and participation for the field of peer-support. In this post, I will continue from where I left off last week, to outline the most important events on the subject of Peer-Support.
In the early 1930s, a group of individuals discovered that several key-characteristics of a religious movement, known as The Oxford Group, were immensely helpful in their own personal recovery from alcoholism. The movement was based on “Four Absolutes”: ‘honesty, purity, unselfishness and love’ and emphasized ‘self-improvement by performing self-inventory, admitting wrongs, making amends, using prayer and meditation, and carrying the message to others.’
Following one of the original members’ short relapse and quick recovery in 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous officially became an organization based in mutual-support and short-term and long-term goal setting.
By 1938, the founders began work on an Alcoholics Anonymous book that helped establish a framework and precise program for members to follow. Based off of their own experiences and ‘the teachings of Sam Shoemaker, William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, and the Oxford Group’ the founders developed A.A.’s signature ‘Twelve Step Program’.
At the beginning of the next decade, A.A. groups began to spread into Canada, and continued to spread across the U.S. The tipping point of the organization was reporter, Jack Alexander’s 7,500-word article in the popular magazine The Saturday Evening Post on March 1, 1941. The article is credited by many as having put Alcoholics Anonymous ‘on the map of public consciousness and spurring a dramatic increase in Big Book sales and membership alike.’
By the late 1940s and early 1950s, the organization’s signature combination of peer-support and goal-setting began to spread internationally.
In 1965, Peer-support once again emerged largely due to the efforts of Robert Carkhoff and Charles Truax. The duo found that ‘lay councillors’, once equipped with essential knowledge and properly trained, were immensely effective at aiding people with mental-illnesses. By the late 1960s, practitioners began to develop and advocate for a new model of the health-care system in which non-professional peers helped to develop and implement programs of recovery.
In the late 1960s, and early 1970s, the former patients of mental-health institutions, much like many other marginalized groups such as the black community, the gay community, and women began to work to enact social change. At the time, new laws were coming into effect disallowing involuntary hospitalization, and increasing the standard of treatment for mental-health patients. As a result of these changes in infrastructure, many patients of mental-hospitals were released.
Following their departure from what was essentially incarceration, former patients began to meet collectively for mutual-support outside of hospitals. These individuals were disenchanted by the abusive and inhumane treatment that they had formerly received while a patient; as a result, a new movement advocating for ‘personal freedom and radical systemic change’ was born.
In congruence with much of the socio-political landscape of the time, the movement, in many ways, became militant. With this shift, new groups such as the Network Against Psychiatric Assault, Insane Liberation Front, and Mental Patient Liberation Front were founded. The groups held demonstrations, established the ‘Madness Network News’ (a method with which to communicate the latest events on the subject), practices mutual-support, and sought to increase consciousness on the subject of mental-illness amongst the public at large. The groups rallied against the following ideas: forced treatment, inhumane treatment, and the medical-model. As the alternative, the groups instead advocated for consumer/survivor initiatives, and systemic change to the mental-health system.
The 1980s and 90s proved to be a time of transition; many of the advocates that had previously rallied against the medical system looked to reintegrate, and instead change the dynamics of the field. Over the decades, legislation promoting the rights of patients and former patients began to be passed, drastically improving the civil-liberties of the community. Additionally, more and more peer-support-related organizations (such as the SHRC) were formed, gained popularity and began to be recognized with a sense of legitimacy amongst the professional medical community.
Peer-support in the last fifteen years has gone through a new age of reinvention, for instance, it is no longer a coping-mechanism used solely for mental-illness or addiction. In fact, according to SHRC Executive Director Mark Freeman, in Toronto, the groups with the highest attendance-rates are based on living with diabetes. Furthermore, with the advent and increasing accessibility of the internet, new forms of support have begun to gain popularity. Online forums, mutual-support on platforms like Twitter and Reddit and mobile applications are just beginning to change the landscape once again to make the sharing of lived-experience-based knowledge and skills more accessible to the general population.
What do you think the future holds for peer-support? Please comment below!