Preventing Burnout in Peer Support: Effective Supervisor Strategies

Author: Jessi Davis (she/they)



Some of us may be barreling toward active burnout right now. This article will focus on what you can do as a Supervisor of Peer Support Specialists to help prevent burnout in your team. 


What is Burnout, and how does it relate to spoons? 


The Dictionary defines “burnout” as “fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity (, 2023). There is a common metaphor in the disability communities called “Spoon Theory.” This metaphor relates to the amount of energy that someone has each day to do the tasks needed, to spoons. In this metaphor, each task may take at least one “spoon” of energy. Many times, tasks take more than one spoon. We all have a limited number of spoons. To read more about the Spoon Theory in greater detail, click the link below. Burnout can feel like you don’t have enough spoons. 

Read more about the Spoon theory here


Supporting Our Staff 

When it comes to supporting our staff, we need to recognize that burnout is often caused by external pressures, rather than internal regulation issues. This means there is little that the staff can do to address the situation. “A survey of 7,500 full-time employees by Gallup found the top five reasons for burnout are: 


  1. Unfair treatment at work 

  2. Unmanageable workload 

  3. Lack of role clarity 

  4. Lack of communication and support from their manager 

  5. Unreasonable time pressure” (Moss, 2019) 


When we look at supporting our Peer Support Specialist staff, we need to keep in mind that they are possibly dealing with each one of the items listed by Moss. Peer Support Specialists across the country consistently talk about these pressures and more. 


You can help alleviate these pressures as a Supervisor of Peer Support Specialists by: 


  1. Include Peer Specialists in all decisions about them and their programs. They are experts in their roles and it is imperative to include them in the planning process from the very beginning.

  2. Be sure that you and the rest of the team truly understand the role of a Peer Support Specialist in your organization.

  3. Make sure your Peer Support Specialists are equitably paid.  While we have a long way to go before we get there, the President of the National Association of Peer Supporters says that “no Peer Supporter should make less than $25 an hour.”

  4. Connect your Peer Support Specialist with the broader Peer Support Workforce. This can be achieved by assigning funds and time for this person to attend professional development training and conferences, employing multiple Peer Support Specialists in the same department/team, and more.

  5. As their manager, ensure you are providing the type of support that your Peer Support Specialist needs. Talk with them about what is helpful and how they would like to use their supervision time.

  6. Make sure that your Peer Support Specialists are not required to do more work than time allows. This is going to be something you need to consistently monitor, as the pressure to be more “productive” will be a continual push as time goes on. Peer Support Specialists do their job based on the relationships they build with the people they serve, and when we do not provide the space for that relationship to flourish, we run the risk of undermining the Peer Support Specialist’s work and the impact they have.  




Sources: (n.d.). Burnout. In Retrieved April 11, 2023, from

Moss, J. (2020). Rethinking burnout: When self-care is not the cure. American Journal of Health Promotion, 34(5), 565-568. 



About the author:

Jessi Davis (she/they) is a highly accomplished professional with extensive experience in the field of mental health and peer support. Currently, she serves as the Senior Administrative Program Coordinator for the South Southwest Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (MHTTC), a program funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that focuses on improving the capacity of mental health professionals to provide evidence-based services.


In addition to her work at the MHTTC, Jessi is also the President of the National Association of Peer Supporters (N.A.P.S.), a nonprofit organization that promotes peer support as a valuable component of mental health treatment. Through her leadership at N.A.P.S., Jessi has been a vocal advocate for the integration of peer support into mental health services and has worked to increase the visibility and recognition of the important role that peer supporters play in the mental health field.



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