In late 18th century France Jean Baptiste Pussin, governor of Bicêtre Hospital in Paris, recognized the value of peer support. He employed recovered patients who were praised for being gentle, honest, and humane. This marked a shift in mental health treatment into the moral treatment era that focused on social welfare and individual rights.
The peer movement picked up in 1965 when counselors Robert R. Carkhuff, PhD, and Charles Truax experimented with using non-professionals in place of therapists. Results showed that non-professionals generally outperformed professionals. Success was due to the degree of empathy and connection between peer and client.
Meanwhile in 1960s New Zealand psychiatric patients were being encouraged to take a more active role in their own care and treatment. From the 1970s the emphasis moved to outpatient care and community-based treatment. Moving into the 1980’s there was a worldwide movement of mental health consumer advocacy for the rights of mental health patients.
Peer support grew out of this advocacy and as a consumer backlash against a clinical system that was not doing a good job of serving people with mental health issues. Mental health consumers felt that they could help each other with more compassion and more effectively.
Economic and political changes in New Zealand caused the waves of health sector restructuring in the 1980s and 1990s that coincided with a transition to a system of community-based services that were complex and messy. Such challenges, however, were met for the first time by the strong and influential movement of consumers who shared their experiences and concerns.
Peer support in New Zealand for male survivors of sexual abuse was born when one man in Christchurch asked his counsellor about peer support. The consequent group has grown from a single group in 1991 to a national body representing eleven member organisations that collectively provide peer support to hundreds of men a week.