Self-determination

Peer work aims to support people to be in the driver’s seat of their own lives, to be able to decide on their own daily life and destiny, have the opportunity to decide how the process of personal self-determination will occur, and where it will lead.

This approach to determine or self-define your own life’s goals can also be called ‘ownership’ and is closely linked to emancipation and empowerment processes.



Every person should have the opportunity to determine what’s best for him. I for instance have an allergy against ‘doing-what-I-am supposed-to do’. To do what other think is desirable or is what they tolerate. When I came out of rehab in the 1980s, I wanted again to be involved in the drug scene. I got the opportunity to start a HIV pevention initiative, NO RISK. The idea was to inform and support injecting drug users who did not have contact with drug services. I noticed that they appreciated our approach and our information. Straight from the life experts. Soon we included social support and advocacy for the interests of users. On top of that I had the opportunity to support colleagues in their critisism on drug services and drug policy.

Theo van Dam, drug user activist, The Netherlands

Peer programmes focus on empowerment within structured projects, in which peers have meaningful roles, decision- making power and are involved in programme development and delivery.  This principle is even more important because there is an initial imbalance between the two key stakeholder groups - professionals and the target group.

Peer support seeks to achieve community level change and objectives. However, it is recognised that individual peer workers may receive personal benefits that help them progress in their lives and also potentially in addressing drug-related problems.  Sam Friedman (a US researcher on HIV and drug use) has described this effect as ‘redemption through social struggle’.