The Netherlands


Organisations in the mental health care and addiction care in the Netherlands years ago already started working with newer forms of peer support and peer specialism. There has been an increased emphasis on involving users and experiential knowledge both in inpatient as outpatient settings. Ever since many roles and types of peer support have been developed and have become familiar and common. Also in neighborhood oriented methods, such as FACT teams, the involvement of peer specialists is required. Moreover peer specialists are being integrated in the regular health system but also in community work, in relation to immigrants, people with intellectual disabilities, people living in poverty and many more.
There is also a growing number (both non-charitable and charitable) initiatives that are positioned on the edge of the regular system that are doing interesting work such as Vriend GGZ and JES.

In the Netherlands there are many active communities of clients and users, yet lot of challenges are still being faced, especially when it comes to the reform of traditionally shaped care. On a national level policy and requirements concerning the (paid) involvement of peer specialists have been set up and mental health organizations more than ever- have paid jobs available for peer specialists. As mentioned also in other settings peer specialists are more and more common and respected.


However the role of the peer specialist is subject to discussion and is easily idealized by many while it also seems to be a high demanding task to fulfill. As recent research reveals peer specialists are to bridge between professional and client, speak both languages, but also often have to deal with the transformation of an entire culture in the organization and have to deal with highly complex moral and ethical conflicts (Karbouniaris, 2012, Passavanti, 2015). When it comes to maintainability, many Peer Specialists after having worked a certain period, decide to withdraw because they don’t fit the expected job description anymore. Hidajattoellah (2015) warns us for the possible protoprofessionalization of Peer Support workers when mostly working with (traditionally educated) professionals. This is especially the case when peer specialists don’t have the opportunity to work with peers and mostly work with other professionals as their colleagues.

A professional competency profile for peer specialists has been designed in 2013 by the National Institute Trimbos and the National Mental Healthcare branche organization (GGZ Nederland). Next a general curriculum has been developed for the education of peer specialists (2015). Currently the Dutch Care authorities intent to establish an acknowledged profession and formal position for Peer Specialists that are working in a care setting.


Meanwhile a large transformation of the social care system in our country is taking place: this implies an increasing responsibility of local authorities/municipalities to ensure that people with special needs can live in their own habitat as long as possible. A growing emphasis om more informal care and support is seen as one of the most important sources in addition to and in collaboration with professional support. One of the ways to work with more informal support is training peers. This leads to new opportunities to involve the service users perspective and enhance current practices.


Like in Germany and other surrounding countries, there are two different types of universities. Social work in the Netherlands can mainly be studied at a “university of applied sciences”. Utrecht University of Applied sciences currently transforms its bachelor curriculum towards a united concept of Social Work that also meets European standards in working with people in vulnerable situations. Therefore also service users are being involved and we are seeking for ways to implement experiential knowledge as a well-respected and valued source of knowledge.

Utrecht University of applied sciences and Amsterdam University of applied sciences are both stakeholders in the National Platform of Universities that are active on developing experiential knowledge in/related to Social Work (HOED). This platform discusses about and tries to involve service users and peer specialism in the current social work education.
One of the aims of this platform is to contribute to the acknowledgment of experiential knowledge as an important third source next to clinically based and scientifically based knowledge. By exchanging new concepts and learning models and curricula, lecturers and researchers who attend this platform try to professionalize and integrate service users voice in the Social Work education.

Both Universities are seeking ways to involve Peer Specialists and increase their impact in their current and future curricula. Students who have experiences as users are being invited to talk about their view and stories and are also asked to participate in innovation of the curriculum. Students may choose to involve their experiences throughout their entire studies.
In Amsterdam there are even Peer Specialists working in paid jobs over the past years in order to involve the other perspective (Kowalk, 2015).
Both Universities are participating in a national committee of Social Work schools (HOED) who are striving to integrate experiential knowledge as an important source.


  • Eefje Driessen, Joep Holten, Max Huber, Elisa Passavanti, Paulina Sedney & Xiomara Vado Soto (2013) Begrippenkader ervaringsdeskundigheid. Hogeschool van Amsterdam, 2013.
  • Boertien, D., & Bakel van, M. (2012). Handreiking voor de inzet van ervaringsdeskundigheid vanuit de geestelijke gezondheidszorg. Utrecht: Trimbos-instituut. (BB12)
  • Haaster, H. van, Wilken, J.P., Karbouniaris, S., & Hidajattoelah, D. (2013). Kaderdocument Ervaringsdeskundigheid. Utrecht: Kenniscentrum Sociale Innovatie, Hogeschool Utrecht. (HWKH13)
  • Kowalk, H. (2015). Het andere perspectief. Het verhaal van een ervaringsdeskundige bij de Hogeschool van Amsterdam. Uitgave: Hogeschool van Amsterdam.


Power Us in The Netherlands is represented by Social Work departments of two Dutch Universities, Hogeschool Utrech and Hogeschool van Amsterdam