Peer counselling


Acknowledging that Peer Counselling is crucial to empower persons with disabilities, Upper Austria established, for the first time worldwide, Peer Counselling as a social profession, which values the experience of physical, psychosocial and intellectual disability as a fundamental quality.‘ 


Peer Counselling




Upper Austria, Directorate Health and Social Affairs

Issues addressed

Peer counselling

Background information

‘Peer Counselling started with a series of talking and listening techniques which were developed in the early ‘70s and used by students at American universities. When persons with disabilities began to attend Berkeley University, they began to use Peer Counselling in order to share their experiences and to understand the sources of their common oppression and discrimination. Peer Counselling was crucial for the development of the Independent Living Movement which gained therefrom the determination to demand independence, a life without barriers and equal opportunities. In the ‘80s, Peer Counselling was further developed and combined with training in advice and consulting. Courses on Peer Counselling were generally offered by centres for independent living and, since the ‘90s, mostly health institutions have increasingly requested such a qualification. Similarly in Upper Austria, where, in addition, Peer Counselling was inserted amongst the services offered under the Equal Opportunities Act. It is in this context that in 2008 the regional Parliament decided to establish Peer Counselling as a social profession in the Social Profession Act. It appears to be the first step worldwide which provides for such a high standard of qualification, rights under collective agreements and a professionalization of what has fuelled the disability rights movement since the ‘70s.’

Description of practice

‘A Peer Counsellor has attained disability-related experiences, uses active listening as well as other problem solving techniques in order to give guidance to, and assist, equally affected people. Peer Counsellors can serve as a link between the person with disabilities seeking help and the service providers or the family. However, it is not the task of Peer Counselling to solve the problems for others, but to provide support. Since 2009, qualification courses designed for different disability experiences, such as physical, intellectual and psychosocial, have been offered at the regional Independent Living Center. On the whole the qualification, which is financed by the region, comprises 240 teaching units and 80 hours of internship. Accommodations are provided. The curriculum comprises know-how for human communication, counselling, on independent living, disability-related laws and services offered to persons with disabilities in Austria. Peer Counsellors are required to complete further training to the extent of 16 hours every two years. In addition, Upper Austria undertook major steps to facilitate job opportunities and now service providers such as Social exit, pro mente, EMC, and many others are employing Peer Counsellors on a part-time basis.’


‘Recently a professional association was established, which demands a higher job grading. A qualification in personal future planning is being developed in order to facilitate the transition to community living.’

Additional information

EMC Empowerment Center

Selbstbestimmt Leven – Initiative OÖ

The Social Profession Act, Upper Austria, 2008, in particular §§ 45-47 (available in German)

Gisela Hermes, Peer Counseling – Beratung von Behinderten für Behinderte als Empowerment-Instrument, in: Psychosoziale Beratung in der Sozial- und Rehabilitationspädagogik, ed. Heike Schnoor, pp. 74-80.

Gisela Hermes, Förderung der Selbstbestimmung durch Empowerment: Erfahrungen aus der Praxis, 2010 (available in German)

Sebastian Ruppe, “Auf gleicher Augenhöhe”. Möglichkeiten und Grenzen des Peer Counseling, 2011, p. 9. (available in German)

2014 Inclusion Europe. Rue d'Arlon 55, 1040 Brussels, Belgium