Peer workers

In the drugs field people with personal experience of problem substance use have been involved in service development and delivery for decades. Drug treatment services, as developed from the 1960s and particularly in the 1980s and 1990s were often staffed by people with similar personal experience. This was particularly the case in the third sector and in residential services.

In the professionalisation of the field it became less common for people to disclose their status as having personally experienced problem substance use. The drivers for this were that people with their own experience of problem substance use working in the field gained their own professional experience and qualifications and were often promoted and their professional credibility did not solely rest on their personal experience and commitment but also, and perhaps mainly as they saw it, in their work experience and qualifications. Secondly, it was felt that workers who did not have direct personal experience were undermined if workers with such experience established credibility and tried to develop trusting relationships with the people using the service on the basis of disclosing their own personal experience or their identity as a person in recovery. In some services, such disclosure came to be regarded as unprofessional. Although people with their own personal experience were still drawn to work in the field and valued for their contribution as staff in services, their status as people with personal experience was often not explicitly stated.

The emergence of the recovery agenda meant that people with personal experience were sometimes explicitly recruited into post for which such experience was required and also, more commonly, ‘lived experience’ was regarded as a positive in recruitment of people to frontline posts. Again, workers in services began to explicitly state that they had personal experience or shared their identity as someone in recovery. Some people who had worked in services for years and not shared this information, at least with people using the service began to ‘come out’.