SHS Peer Group Supports Chronic Disease Self-Management

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From left, Dr. Patty Rebeck with peer counselors Stephanie Greer and Tyrone Ferguson at a recent counseling meeting.

Sometimes, we all need a little help from a friend.

With that idea in mind, SHS Health Care Home for Primary Care has launched a Peer Advisory Group to provide support for patients learning to manage a chronic disease.

The group meets 1:30 to 3 p.m. every Thursday in the Building C office of Dr. Patricia Rebeck, licensed clinical psychologist and Behavioral Health Consultant. The meetings are open to any adult patients enrolled in Health Care Home for Primary Care.

“We’re inviting patients to come in and talk with people who’ve been in their shoes,” Dr. Rebeck said. “Our peer advisers are willing to share what they’ve been through. Their testimonials have more impact than I could.”

The discussions might cover topics like taking medications regularly, changing to a healthier diet or developing – and sticking with – an exercise plan. The program is designed to support patients dealing with diabetes, obesity, asthma and other chronic conditions or diseases.

“If you see that others can do it, you are more likely to believe that you can, too,” Dr. Rebeck said.

Peer counseling is not a new idea. It is well established that we rely upon recommendations and advice from peers, believing that we see a reflection of ourselves in others like us, Dr. Rebeck said. Brittney Hazley and Joan Uta of Health Care Home-Primary Care also support the peer counseling programs as part of the array of services available.

The program launched last fall, just after a similar program for ex-prison inmates achieved a milestone of success.

In that program, former inmates gather to provide support to others who are re-entering society. The group named itself “Focus and Refocus,” which is a kind of code for how participants can control their thinking and support each other to maintain a positive perspective.

The group developed a website and a brochure, part of a larger mission to share their voices with the community. One member of the group, Tyrone Ferguson, delivered a presentation titled “How We Want You to Help Us,” to 215 attendees at the Missouri Corrections Association/Missouri Probation & Parole Officers Association conference in September at the Lake of the Ozarks.

“This is a testament to self-efficacy,” said Dr. Rebeck. “There’s power in believing in yourself and in seeing others believe in you.”

Dr. Rebeck noted that the peer advisory discussions are informal and down-to-earth. One patient was discouraged by obesity, which made her feel ugly and unwilling to be seen in public. But in one meeting, she learned that others in the group found her interesting, and that gave her “a burst of willingness” to try to live, Dr. Reback said.

“Our members each care about helping others,” she said.  “It helps you take care of yourself when you know you have value. We all need a reason to get up in the morning.”

Learn more about the Focus and ReFocus support group at its website. Or contact SHS at (816) 922-1070).

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