“We’re All in this Together”: Peer-specialist Contributions to a Healthy Lifestyle Intervention for People with Serious Mental Illness

  • Lauren Bochicchio
  • Ana Stefancic
  • Kristen Gurdak
  • Margaret Swarbrick
  • Leopoldo J. CabassaEmail author
Original Article


This qualitative study explored peer specialists’ contributions to a healthy lifestyle intervention for obese/overweight individuals with serious mental illness (SMI) living in supportive housing. Intervention participants, peer specialists, and supervisors were interviewed and a grounded model emerged from the data identifying essential interpersonal attributes of the peer specialist-participant relationship. Peer specialists’ disclosure of their own experiences making health behaviors changes was critical for building participants’ motivation and ability to try lifestyle changes. Findings can inform peer specialist training and practice standards and facilitate the expansion of peer-delivered interventions to improve the physical health of people with SMI.


Peer support Physical health Qualitative Mental illness 



We thank Adriana Bastardas-Albero for her assistance with data management and express our gratitude to the intervention participants, supervisors, and peer specialists who participated in this project.


This study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (Grant No. R01MH104574).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social WorkColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Collaborative Support Programs of New JerseyRutgers Behavioral Health CareFreeholdUSA
  4. 4.George Warren Brown School of Social WorkWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

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