Relational Complexity of the Near-Age Peer Support Provider Role in Youth and Young Adult Community Mental Health Settings

Vanessa V. Klodnick, Beth Sapiro, Alisa Gold, Mei Pearlstein, Autumn N. Crowe, Ava Schneider, Rebecca P. Johnson, Brianne LaPelusa, Heidi Holland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increasingly, US community mental health settings are integrating professional near-age youth peer support providers to improve youth service engagement and outcomes. Youth peer specialists (YPS) use their lived and living experiences with a mental health diagnosis to validate, empathize, and provide individualized support, while also improving their program’s overall responsiveness to young people’s needs. Although promising, these roles tend to lack clarity—responsibilities vary immensely, and turnover is high. Examining near-age youth peer on-the-job experiences is needed to design effective on-the-job supports. Using community-based participatory action research methods, young adults with lived experience worked in partnership with a PhD-level qualitative researcher to design, recruit, conduct, and analyze in-depth-interviews with current and former near-age youth peer providers. Ten young adult peer mentors in Massachusetts completed interviews that revealed near-age youth peer role relational complexity. Five relational aspects were identified requiring relational practice skills and self-awareness, including relationships with (1) self, (2) clients, (3) supervisors, (4) non-peer colleagues, and (5) other near-age peer providers. Near-age peers experience relationship-related struggles with non-peer identified colleagues who do not understand nor value the near-age peer role. Findings expand on current near-age peer practice and associated on-the-job challenges. Training, supervision, and professional development activities that target these five relational areas may improve YPS on-the-job wellbeing, decrease YPS turnover, and improve youth client outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Behavioral Health Services and Research
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


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