From chronic pain patient to peer: benefits and risks of volunteering

Pain Manag Nurs. 2002 Sep;3(3):94-103. doi: 10.1053/jpmn.2002.126069.


Peer volunteers have been used as cost-effective adjuncts to professional services in other settings and populations, but not a heterogeneous sample of patients with chronic pain. This study evaluated the transition from "patient" to "peer," identifying possible benefits or harm associated with volunteering. Peers provided descriptive data and questionnaires, including measures of pain, disability, self-efficacy, and depression before and after three periods: as a patient, during training, and while volunteering. Average pain intensity scores declined while participants were patients (7.1 to 4.2), rose slightly (5.8) before training, and dropped again after training and volunteering (4.3 and 3.6, respectively). A similar pattern was noted for disability. Depression scores continued to decline after initially dropping, and self-efficacy scores remained stable after the initial 40% rise as a patient. Two themes, "making a connection" and "a sense of purpose," emerged from the narrative data. Descriptive data provided further support that volunteering benefited both patients and peers. This study supports the viability of using peer volunteers for clinical or research endeavors. Improvements in pain, disability, and depression were reported immediately after training and after volunteering for several months without evidence of harm. Despite encountering challenges, the rewards of this altruistic endeavor outweighed any frustrations experienced by volunteers with chronic pain.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression / therapy
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / complications
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Management
  • Pain Measurement
  • Peer Group*
  • Self Efficacy
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Volunteers / psychology*