December 6th, 2013
On Wednesday I went to a “café scientifique” (a panel of speakers and discussion) called “Employing Peer Based Research Associates: Are we Providing Enough Support?” The speakers brought up a list of great accomplishments as well as challenges. Three self-disclosed peer research associates on the panel – Chuck, Jonathan, and Shelly – highlighted some of their key issues.
An HIV diagnosis means a shift in direction for most people. Even those who live in highly affected populations like the gay community have personal changes to absorb. Thankfully for those in the big city, there are good doctors and social service supports out there to help with the transition. (The speakers work in the city so didn’t address being a peer-research associate in an outlying or less urban area, which I’m sure has additional challenges).
Once a person has regained some balance in living with HIV, they often want to give back to the community that’s supported them. Chuck said this is why he wanted to become a peer-research associate (PRA). He feels one of the strengths of community based research is that there are many ways people can be involved. Some will thrive on community advisory committees, some as interviewers or group facilitators, others as presenters of research results.
Jonathan talked about how fast things can change when you get involved in peer research. He went from being a bartender to being a research associate in a year. He’s learned some important lessons, including PRAs “don’t have to know everything.” He acknowledged they can feel pressured that way and to “let it go.”
All three peer-research associates emphasized the need PRAs have for emotional support. Getting involved in research at any level means you will hear other peoples’ stories, and often their traumas. Chuck’s suggestion? Get your support lined up before you start on a project or job. Know who you will talk to on a difficult day or series of them. Shelly says for anyone working with peers there are challenges in figuring out that balance between personal and professional support, but it’s really important. If a PRA finds themself in a crisis, they can’t always be honest with peers because they feel stuck in their “work hat.”
Of the three PRAs, Shelly spoke the most about this balance between personal and professional hats. She said working for an AIDS service organization means that your personal relationship to that organization changes, and you might not feel comfortabel seeking support where you work. You have to think about where your support will come from when you need it- and you will need it. “Going through mental health work is part of a peer research associate’s responsibility,” she said.
It was a thorough discussion about important work. It’s clear that everyone involved in peer-research must be aware that it needs lots of thought to all of the parts of a project or program: preparation, process, and what happens with the results. It was great to see so many in the community having the conversation.
For more on this forum watch for a full length article in our upcoming newsletter.
Photo: Digitalnative, Flick’r Creative Commons