Peer Support

Peer supporters specialists are people who use their experience of recovery from mental health disorders to support others in recovery. Combined with skills often learned in formal training, their experience and institutional knowledge put them in a unique position to offer support. Although they go by many names like peer support specialist or recovery coach, all model recovery, share their knowledge, and relate in a way that have made this evidence-based practice a rapidly growing field.

Certified Peer Support Specialists are counselors who have lived experience with addiction or mental illness. They have gone through the same things you have and can help you navigate the publicly-funded health care system and help you get the services and supports you need.

Peer Support Specialists can help because sometimes it is easier to accept you have problems and easier to deal with challenges when you get to talk to someone who understands exactly how you feel. Other times it helps just to know someone else cares about you and will be checking on you. The Peer Support Specialists also benefit from helping others. Their recovery and overall wellness is improved by helping others and connecting with someone living with the same types of issues and treatments.

A peer support group is a regular gathering of men and women with the lived experience of mental illness. Usually once each month, these individuals come together, overseen by a trained peer support specialist or facilitator, to talk with one another about their experiences, struggles and challenges. The support group becomes an anchor for them as they recover from their illnesses and develop skills to live more effectively in their communities. A peer support group is a freeing experience, as these individuals realize “I am not alone,” and hope and trust grow between them.

Many studies provide solid evidence that participation in peer support groups reduces reliance on formal services for those in recovery. Unlike hospitalization or institutionalization, peer support groups give participants a sense of exercising control over the quality and direction of their lives. By developing a relationship of trust with their peers, they will work with one another to create plans for responding to challenges and taking care of themselves beyond the group. After all, succeeding beyond the group is the ultimate goal of peer support.

But peer support specialists are more than just people who have been there. Seen in a variety of settings including hospitals, drop-in centers, and prisons, peer support specialists go beyond treatment as usual and use different training and skills to support recovery in conjunction with professionals like therapists, social workers, and psychiatrists. They work in a variety of roles including case management, wellness coaching, education, and as active participants in a full range of clinical settings, including crisis services.