The buddy system: Helping peers maintain recovery with companionship

buddy system maintain recovery

All around the world, educational facilities have instated “buddy systems” to help teach concepts of responsibility and provide support to younger generations. For example, schools in Victoria, Australia, pair students entering a new grade level with an older counterpart to establish a welcoming transition from the first day of class. These kinds of partnerships can benefit both members by fostering recovery and other positive behaviors.

What is the buddy system?

Buddy systems are one of multiple peer support services, which the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines as a specialized type of care administered by individuals with common life experiences of abuse, mental disorder or whatever the case may be. Citing previous studies, the organization stated that peer support generally increases recovery rates and reduces health care costs.

SAMHSA experts also explained, “People with mental and/or substance use disorders have a unique capacity to help each other based on a shared affiliation and a deep understanding of this experience. In self-help and mutual support, people offer this support, strength and hope to their peers, which allows for personal growth, wellness promotion and recovery.”

Research on peer practices

One of the most recent studies regarding the buddy system was done by Jennifer L. Peterson, Ph.D., and fellow researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2012. Despite being rare in the treatment field, past findings demonstrated that companion services are mutually supportive. Those who have volunteered as a buddy commonly report personal growth, empowerment and increased social acceptance.

Furthermore, a clinical psychologist by the name of Jane M. Simoni, Ph.D., conducted a study evaluating peer-led social support and its effect on treatment adherence. In 2007, the University of Washington researcher accessed 136 inner-city outpatients and found that more exposure to this intervention was linked to greater reports of adherence, higher levels of perceived support and fewer depressive symptoms at a post hoc analysis.

How to be a buddy

In a follow-up study, Simoni focused on testing the buddy system specifically. In a training manual drafted for the investigation, known as Project PAL, she detailed how buddies should handle certain situations and even listed the different forms of elements of social support. According to Simoni, an effective buddy must be a source of information, affirmation and emotion. Instead of relying on buddy-centered strategies like moralizing or preaching, utilize peer-centered behaviors:

  • Practice silence: Ask fewer questions and refrain from focusing attention away from the person in need
  • Express body language: Nod, maintain eye contact and give out other nonverbal prompts
  • Respond with subtle verbal prompts: Chime in with considerate phrases like “yes” and “I see”
  • Ask open-ended questions: Avoid queries that can be answered with a yes or no. Allow them to extend the detail of their story
  • Repeat back information: Summarize the main points of the story to demonstrate careful listening skills
  • Do not offer unwarranted medical advice: Leave clinical answers for professionals only

Many teens see themselves as the hero of their own story, and on every great journey, these protagonists need companions by their side. If you or a teen in your life is trying to recover alone, reach out and find professional support. At White River Academy, our students make life-long bonds that benefit all aspects of their lives such as avoiding chronic relapse. Contact a representative online or through our 24/7 helpline to learn about our therapeutic educational services.

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