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Developing and testing a principle-based fidelity index for peer support in mental health services

Gillard, S. ORCID: 0000-0002-9686-2232, Banach, N., Barlow, E. , Byrne, J., Foster, R., Goldsmith, L., Marks, J., McWilliam, C., Morshead, R., Stepanian, K., Turner, R., Verey, A. & White, S. (2021). Developing and testing a principle-based fidelity index for peer support in mental health services. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 56, pp. 1903-1911. doi: 10.1007/s00127-021-02038-4


PURPOSE: Evidence suggests that the distinctive relational qualities of peer support-compared to clinical-patient relationships-can be eroded in regulated healthcare environments. Measurement of fidelity in trials of peer support is lacking. This paper reports the development and testing of a fidelity index for one-to-one peer support in mental health services, designed to assess fidelity to principles that characterise the distinctiveness of peer support.

METHODS: A draft index was developed using expert panels of service user researchers and people doing peer support, informed by an evidence-based, peer support principles framework. Two rounds of testing took place in 24 mental health services providing peer support in a range of settings. Fidelity was assessed through interviews with peer workers, their supervisors and people receiving peer support. Responses were tested for spread and internal consistency, independently double rated for inter-rater reliability, with feedback from interviewees and service user researchers used to refine the index.

RESULTS: A fidelity index for one-to-one peer support in mental health services was produced with good psychometric properties. Fidelity is assessed in four principle-based domains; building trusting relationships based on shared lived experience; reciprocity and mutuality; leadership, choice and control; building strengths and making connections to community.

CONCLUSIONS: The index offers potential to improve the evidence base for peer support in mental health services, enabling future trials to assess fidelity of interventions to peer support principles, and service providers a means of ensuring that peer support retains its distinctive qualities as it is introduced into mental health services.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Publisher Keywords: Peer support, Fidelity index, Community mental health, Randomised controlled trials, Social support, Validation study
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
R Medicine > RT Nursing
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Nursing
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution International Public License 4.0.

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