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J Occup Rehabil. 2014 Mar;24(1):32-41. doi: 10.1007/s10926-013-9440-2.

Motivations of persons with psychiatric disabilities to work in mental health peer services: a qualitative study using self-determination theory.

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  • 1Department of Community Mental Health, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel,



Individuals with psychiatric disabilities have low rates of employment and occupational rehabilitation success. Mental health peer services are a new occupational modality that opened a promising occupational path: persons with serious mental illnesses employed to provide support to others with psychiatric conditions. However challenges to successful peer work exist. Work motivation is central to understanding and supporting peer workers, yet little is known about sources of motivation to work as mental health peer providers. The aim of this study was to identify what drives individuals to mental health peer work using self determination theory (SDT).


Motivations of 31 mental health peer workers were explored as part of a larger study. A theory driven approach was employed to emerging qualitative data using SDT concepts: external motivation and internally regulated motivations derived from basic needs (autonomy, competence, relatedness).


External motivations included generic occupational goals and getting away from negative work experiences. Internal motivations corresponded with SDT basic needs: autonomy met-needs was reflected in having freedom to disclose and finding that work accords with personal values; competence met-needs was reflected in using personal experience as a resource to help others; and relatedness met-needs were reflected in having opportunity to connect intimately and reciprocate with consumers.


This study identified external and internal motivations of persons with psychiatric disabilities to work as peer providers-a novel occupation in mental health. Employing personal experience and enabling peer contact emerge as major motivational tenets of mental health peer work. According to SDT instrumental occupational goals are considered more external than satisfaction of basic psychological needs. The study demonstrates the applicability of SDT in the design of autonomy supported environments to promote work engagement and sustenance of mental health peer providers.

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