08 Feb 2024

How to use Butterfly’s new Eating Disorder Peer Workforce Guidelines


Butterfly Foundation was recently funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care to develop Eating Disorders Peer Workforce Guidelines.

The purpose of the Guidelines is to support the development and professionalisation of the peer workforce for the care of people experiencing eating disorders and their carers, families and supports.

The importance of the peer workforce

Driven initially by the mental health consumer/survivor movement, there is now increasing recognition across the mental health service system of the need to balance learned experience (experts-by-profession) with lived experience (experts-by-experience).

The Eating Disorders Peer Workforce Guidelines are part of this tradition; they have been developed in close collaboration with people with lived experience. Butterfly initiated a series of collaborative activities in 2022-23 including a sector Working Group, individual meetings and correspondence with stakeholders, a multi-stage lived experience engagement strategy, a review of existing lived experience guidelines and frameworks, and desktop research.

The Guidelines outline strategies for embedding peer workers as partners in providing care within the health system, taking account of individual needs and preferences, and ensuring that participants can make informed decisions about their care.

A growing body of evidence supports to role of the peer workforce in delivering positive impacts for the recipients of mental health services as well as benefits for peer workers themselves and the whole health care system. Despite this, those who access or seek to access peer support often face challenges in finding the support they need. Those seeking to work as paid peer workers also face challenges, including:

  • limited funding for peer worker roles, and limited availability of positions
  • lack of, or inconsistency in, remuneration
  • limited learning and development opportunities, including peer supervision and
  • challenges to maintaining personal wellbeing.

Guiding principles

In response, the Guidelines set out Guiding Principles which were developed initially through two ideation workshops with a group of people with lived experience of eating disorders. The principles were then presented to the Eating Disorders Peer Workforce Guidelines Working Group for discussion, and then ranked in order of importance by respondents to a lived experience survey, along with an opportunity to identify any gaps or new suggestions.

As a result of this lived experience-led iterative process, the following eight principles were created:

  1. Adequate training and supervision, to ensure that peer workers have the skills and knowledge required to provide safe and effective support
  2. A recovery-oriented approach, emphasising hope for recovery, self-determination and empowerment
  3. Employing organisations are committed to culture change, including practices in place to ensure that peer workers are valued and respected
  4. Prioritisation of peer workforce wellbeing and safety, with a clear scope of practice and access to sufficient support
  5. Accessibility, including matching of peer workers to peer work recipients based on participant needs and presentation as much as possible and as appropriate
  6. Professional and person-centered, including being non-judgemental, inclusive and trauma-informed
  7. Accountable and safe practice, including maintaining appropriate professional boundaries
  8. Integration within the care team, to serve the best interest of the participant

How to use the Guidelines

The Guidelines are intended as a tool that can assist and guide strategy and operations within organisations with an eating disorders peer workforce, or those considering the provision of an eating disorders peer workforce.

It is noted that the development of peer work as a whole is an area of increased interest and investment across several Australian jurisdictions.

The Guidelines have been designed to be used flexibly, so that jurisdictions and organisations at varying stages of development and professionalisation can use them to respond safely and effectively to the needs of their communities.

Along with the guiding principles, the Guidelines include advice and recommendations in the following areas:

  • key considerations (defining how eating disorders peer work extends on other types of mental health peer work)
  • education and training requirements
  • recruitment and onboarding
  • supervision requirements
  • accountability and safe practice (including supporting peer worker wellbeing)
  • integration with the care team
  • accessibility and
  • organisational culture.

The further development of the eating disorders lived experience workforce is a focus area of the National Eating Disorders Strategy 2023-2033 (Workforce Standard 3). Butterfly looks forward to supporting this focus area and thanks all of those who generously collaborated with us on the Eating Disorders Peer Workforce Guidelines.

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Related tags: collaboration Eating Disorder eating disorder peer workforce guidelines Guidelines Lived Experience peer support peer workers peer workforce Recovery sector