Disclosure and privacy for peer specialists

peer support Jan 28, 2022

The job title "peer specialist" discloses to our co-workers, and to the individuals we work with, that we are people with the lived experience of recovery. In other words, before we open our mouths at work, we have already disclosed something important about ourselves and the work we do.  From that point, it is up to each of us to decide which experiences we are willing to share and which ones to keep private.  Over the years I have developed some guiding principles on disclosure when working in public.  I'd like to share those with you.

First, the title "peer specialist" or "person with lived experience", does not mean we are obliged to share everything and anything, with anyone who asks.  In my experience, it is important to have personal boundaries and limits on what we are willing to disclose.  These limits are not set in stone and may evolve over time.  For instance, we may decide that a traumatic experience of being involuntarily medicated is too sensitive and painful to share when at work. For now, we may want that experience to remain private.  Five or ten years later, we may have a different relationship with that experience and feel safer, and more confident, sharing the experience with a peer, co-worker or family member at work. So basically what I am saying is that although our title of "peer" automatically discloses to the world something important about us, we can still choose to keep certain things private.  Keeping some things private is not selfish.  It is an act of self-care.

Secondly, when we get right down to it, a disclosure is a story. A disclosure is a story about our experience that we share with another person or a group of people. Great spiritual teachers throughout history have known the true power of a story comes from the way it resonates with the person who is receiving the story. A good story speaks to the other person's heart.  It awakens the mind and heart of the other person. A good story is "good" in as much as it awakens the listener to their own experience and to their own possibilities.

An effective disclosure, in the true spirit of peer support, is less about us as an individual and more about the universal (archetypal) dimensions of what it means to be human and overcome challenges and adversity. One way I remind myself of this principle is: The fine details of my experience are less important. What's important is how the universal chords of my experience pluck the heart strings of my listeners so they open in new ways to what is possible for them.  

I'm interested to hear how you manage disclosure. What principals do you follow?