Peer Support, Therapy and Befriending: What’s the Difference? 

Peer support, therapy and the First Steps ED befriending service are all different forms of help that people can access, designed to support people through difficult times and improve their mental health. Whilst they all have their own benefits, they have some key differences which are important to understand.   

In this blog, we’ll explore the key differences between each service and help you determine what might be the best fit for you. 


Recovery will differ from person-to-person depending on their specific needs and circumstances. This means that a multi-disciplinary approach can be essential to someone’s journey to recovery, better mental health and wellbeing. Peer support, psychotherapy, and befriending are all forms of support provided at First Steps ED with the goal of helping you to understand your mindset and process your eating disorder. But how do they differ in their approach and the nature of the support they can provide. 


Peer Support 

Peer support involves guidance and support from people with similar experiences or challenges. It aims to provide reassurance and seek solutions through a weekly structure of CBT-T style goal setting. Many of our peer support workers at First Steps ED have lived experience and can offer knowledge and advice to the service user. Peer support sessions can either be provided in person or online. They are one-to-one sessions where the individual can share their experiences, feelings, and coping strategies. The peer support worker can then offer guidance and empowerment for the individual to overcome their struggles, and take positive strides to improve their mental health, wellbeing and relationship with their body and food. 

“The goals will vary from person to person. It’s likely that a peer support worker, counsellor, and befriender will all be working towards the same goals – as set by the individual they’re supporting. These might be around meals or reducing exercise or engaging in positive distractions and leisure activities. Peer support differs from clinical therapy as it is centred around lived experience and sharing mutual, similar journeys. In a peer relationship, both sides will have first-hand experience of the same or similar mental health problem. This differs from clinical roles like psychologist and psychiatrist etc. as they’re qualified medically.” 

– Georgie Lazzari 

Read Georgie’s blog on ‘The Importance of Peer Support at First Steps ED’ here: 


Psychotherapy is a one-to-one therapeutic approach, provided at First Steps ED by one of our trained Psychotherapists. Psychotherapy explores a deeper level of understanding why someone might be using coping mechanisms such as disordered eating behaviours. They might look at past events or triggers in the person’s life to better understand why these behaviours might have developed. Everyone will have unique experiences of eating disorders, which is why our therapists are highly skilled and trained in different approaches of therapy to best suit the service user. Psychotherapy at First Steps ED is for anyone aged 16+ who is experiencing/experienced issues around food, body image, self-confidence, exercise, laxative, diuretic, and steroid misuse. 

“Psychotherapy will facilitate a deeper understanding of you and your eating disorder. While befriending and peer support will help de-shame behaviours and thoughts while making you feel less alone. Psychotherapy uses evidence-based approach to reduce all core features of your eating disorder such as the reduction in shame and guilt, body dissatisfaction, challenging thin and or muscle ideals, understanding emotional regulation and maladaptive thinking patterns. Psychotherapy has been proven to change the brain and how you respond, think and behaviour thus creating long lasting effects not seen in other types of support (Malhotra & Sahoo, 2017). The ultimate aim of psychotherapy is to give you the tools to recovery for life.” 

– Kasmira Spence, Counselling Coordinator 

Read our blog on ‘Why Therapy Works’ here: 


Befriending involves building a supportive relationship between a volunteer and someone who may be feeling isolated. It is less structured than peer support and is designed to be a safe space for the service user to offload any of their thoughts and feelings. The goal of befriending is to provide emotional support and companionship, with regular contact between the volunteer and the person they are supporting. Many of our Befrienders at First Steps ED have a lived experience and understand the challenges of an eating disorder. Support is provided through regular contact over six to nine months, the times and dates of which can be decided by the service user and the befriender. This could be an email twice a week, a video chat, or a phone call. Our Befriending service at First Steps is open to anyone affected by an eating disorder. Whether you’re struggling with an eating disorder or difficulties yourself or are a parent or carer supporting a loved one through recovery, our befrienders are here to help. 

“Befriending isn’t designed to coach, counsel, or provide all the answers for recovery, but instead aims to give people the support and empathy they need through the ups and downs in their journey.”  

– Rebecca Thomas, Befriender and Specialist Support Officer 

Read our blog on ‘How Befriending Helps…’ here: 


It can take time to reach out for support, and finding the confidence to speak to someone can be difficult. If you are unsure of the right pathway for you or need support in accessing our services, please contact our team at 

Contributed by Megan Heappey

Marketing and Communications Officer