Facilitators share their own experiences with diet, physical activity and taking their medication in helping people figure out how to manage diabetes in their daily lives and understand the guidance and advice provided by healthcare professionals. They can also help in identifying useful information, such as where to buy healthy foods or convenient locations for exercise. It is important to remember that neither facilitators nor peers are medical experts, but they are experts in their own experiences. Sharing these can be empowering and gives a sense of purpose to peer support.
To get an idea of how this plays out in support groups, take a look at the following video:
For some conditions such as diabetes the issue of medications will be at the forefront of people’s minds. It is important to remember that as a facilitator you will not be qualified to give people advice on medications. This would be overstepping the facilitator role. However, it is OK to discuss the experience of being on different medications or experiences of being prescribed medications. To some extent, there is a fine line between offering clinical advice (e.g. “you should try this medication, it works well for me”) and discussing experiences (e.g. “this medication works well for me, you could ask your doctor about it). This is a matter of judgement which a facilitator should always be aware of.
Talking about problems
Sometimes, a peer you are supporting might tell you difficult things about their life. Diabetes, as you know, can cause some big problems for people. When you encounter peers going through these problems, let them give you the fullest account they wish to offer you. You may find that a lot of their problems are related to the barriers they have in looking after their diabetes. It may be that you end up addressing these to start with. Please see further below.
To try to help them with their problems, you can try a number of things. One of these might be discovering aspects of the peer’s life with diabetes that is going well. You can use this to give positive encouragement and you can reinforce this when you talk about any problems they may be having.
What limits you in looking after your diabetes?
Understanding what makes looking after your condition difficult is useful in that it will give you a sense of changes you could make to manage it better. With respect to diabetes, some common ‘barriers’ are:
- How you feel about your diabetes knowledge
- Knowledge about your diabetes team
- Can you afford to have diabetes (e.g. diet, exercise, treatments)
- Can you access health care and services easily
- Do you experience pressure to look after your diabetes
- Do you have adequate support from your family to look after your diabetes
- Do you have adequate support from your work to look after your diabetes
- Do you feel comfortable talking with your diabetes team
- Do you worry about your diabetes
- Do you have enough time to look after your diabetes
Using these as starting points for ideas, with your peers your can spend some time writing down what limits you in looking after your diabetes.
Your own experience as a resource
Your own experience of living with diabetes is a key resource. You could explain how you deal or have dealt with a particular issue. It may help you to think of your daily life and how you incorporate your diabetes, to help understand what can limit or enhance another person in undertaking their own care.
But when drawing on your own experience, be careful not to make comparisons that don’t quite fit what you are hearing from your peers. Every person with diabetes experiences it slightly differently – both emotionally and physically, so it is okay to not have the exact knowledge to fit the things you hear. Just listening and relaying experiences and pointing out the differences between them will help your peers understand their own situations.
One step at a time
Lastly, you could ask the peer what they may like to change or achieve and then help them think of ways of doing so. You could then revisit how they are getting on with this at the next meeting. Remember that for some people changes may be small and slow, but encouraging and caring can keep their efforts sustained.
Remember: you are not a miracle-worker and it is not your responsibility to make all diabetes problems go away! Just try to listen and encourage those you meet with the best you can.