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Peer Support Space and the Limits of "Expertise"


As the Omicron variant surged at the beginning of the year, I was immediately reminded of the early months of the pandemic. I kept coming back to the communities of disabled people who warned of us what would come: how many people would become ill, disabled or dead, how we would prioritize the economy over peoples' lives, and who would be left to die when ICU beds are full and vaccines are rolled out to affluent, white communities. I recalled how I relied on disabled peoples' knowledges of how to connect when we have to isolate and of mutual aid projects to keep people safe.


I remembered how little I knew then and how little I know now.


My state license, the letters after my name, and the degrees I got all serve to establish me as an authority. Since I got them, people have been more likely to ask for my advice, to believe what I say, and to take my word over others. My notes about people who consult me and the sessions I facilitate are entered into medical records and used to accept or deny access to medicine, medical treatment or gender-affirming surgery. All of this despite often lacking the lived experience of people who consult me for the problems bothering them.


I’ve been thinking:

  • who do we see as "experts" and whose knowledge is dismissed or erased?

  • what systems are challenged by care supported by communities rather than healthcare providers and insurance companies?

  • how have chronically ill and disabled people historically been in relationship with peer support and care?

  • what may healing and care look like outside of discourses around pathology and medicine?

 

Peer Support Space is a peer-led organization that uplifts and relies on lived experience to help connect, support, and heal. They offer a variety of community gatherings, both in-person and virtual, for anyone over the age of 18.


Rather than being led by clinicians or therapists, groups at Peer Support Space are led by people from the communities they serve - including queer, Black, Latinx, immigrant, neurodiverse, Mad, disabled folks, and people experiencing other barriers to wellness. Instead of providing medical treatment or clinical "expertise," they offer mutuality, advocacy, and insider knowledge. The relationships they encourage are the relationships that have kept oppressed communities alive and in communion with one another throughout history and they cannot be replicated in my therapy room.


Where to Start: