Negotiating Mental Illness across the Lay-professional Divide: Role Play in Peer Work Consultations

Malene Lue Kessing*, Nanna Mik-Meyer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Patient involvement is a prominent policy aim in modern health care. Today, mental health services employ peer workers (PWs) who have personal experiences with mental illness. Based on 22 interviews with PWs and 26 audio recordings of real-life consultations, we show how PWs talk about their personal experiences as professional qualifications. Furthermore, we demonstrate how in real-life encounters, PWs and patients convert personal experiences into a professional approach through an interactionist role play that balance PWs role as former patients and current professionals. Our analysis shows that PWs combine the personal pronoun ‘I’ (stressing that it is personal) with the indefinite pronoun ‘one’ (referring to generalised patient experiences) when they recount illness experiences. This convey that PWs engage with mental illness as both a personal and professional topic. In addition, the analysis shows that PWs (and patients) use professional clues to manifest PWs’ positions as professionals. Overall, the article demonstrates that instead of focussing on authentic patient relationships, as previous research has done, it is beneficial to investigate peer work from a symbolic interactionist approach revealing how PWs and patients skilfully manoeuvre the contradictions embedded in the PWs’ dual role as former patients and current professionals.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number4-5
Pages (from-to)815-829
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • Mental health consultations
  • Peer work
  • Real-life data
  • Role play
  • Symbolic interactionism

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