Certified Peer Supporter: A recovery program

Who knows more about behavioral health disorders than those who have lived the experience? Who knows more about recovery than those who are well along the path to recovery? A peer supporter is someone who is on the recovery journey and is helping others. Peer supporters share lived experiences in an appropriate manner to build relationships with peers. Their purpose is to listen with empathy and understand the pain, isolation and problems of an individual with a behavioral health diagnosis. They help their peers move forward with recovery based on their own understanding and experience with the problems.

The Certified Peer Supporer (CPS) is certified by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services’ (OhioMHAS’s) and is part of their mandated continuum of care services. It is the Washington County Behavioral Health Board’s responsibility to ensure that mandated services are available in the board area.

OhioMHAS’s web site (www.mha.ohio.gov/Default.aspx?tabid=712) defines peer services as:

“…the process of giving and receiving support and education from individuals with shared life experiences. Peer services are provided by individuals in recovery from mental illness and/or addiction who use their lived experience as a tool to assist others by sharing their personal journeys and knowledge. Individuals engaged in peer services play a vital role in laying the foundation for sustained recovery. They encourage, inspire, and empower others to set recovery goals and achieve them.”

What is the role of the CPS?

The CPS role is:

¯ To inspire hope of recovery from mental illness, drug addiction, and co-occurring disorders.

¯ To share lived experience in a manner that fosters connectedness and builds relationships with peers.

¯ To listen to and understand peers’ pain and isolation while exhibiting empathy and support as they move forward in recovery.

¯ To assist peers in exploring options and overcoming barriers that prevent them from moving forward in recovery.

¯ To assist peers in developing strategies to communicate with and advocate for themselves.

¯ To support peers in implementing a relapse prevention plan.

¯ To assist peers in adopting a proactive role in their own behavioral and physical health.

The role of the CPS is not to provide clinical care nor is it to prescribe or dispense medication.

Peer support services are researched services that have been shown to: reduce expensive inpatient service use, reduce recurrent psychiatric hospitalizations, improve individuals’ relationships with health care providers, better engage individuals in care, and significantly increase individuals’ abilities to manage their symptoms and reduce their reliance on formal services while achieving positive recovery outcomes. The state has mandated the use of certified peer supporters for the treatment of substance use disorders. Peer supporters are used in state hospitals and by providers to serve as first contacts as well as serving as an integral part of the treatment team.

To become certified an individual must declare that he or she is in recovery and has lived experience with mental illness and/or a substance use disorder. Training is provided by OhioMHAS through local facilitators. Local training of peer supporters may be requested by care providers or the Washington County Behavioral Health Board. The Veteran Administration may also request specialized training.

Training consists of core competencies such as ethics, boundaries, and advocacy. Special emphasis is placed on understanding that the peer supporter does not tell the person in recovery what to do. … Certified Peer Supporters may suggest things that have worked for them, but you cannot tell others to do those things.

There is a link on the OhioMHAS website for individuals to apply for training. The application will ask for two non-clinical references who can speak to your recovery. You can apply for a space in a currently scheduled training; if no space is available you will be placed in a data base for the next available training. The cost of the training is paid by funds from OhioMHAS or other funding sources; to date no person in recovery has had to pay for his or her own training. There are also funds available for reimbursing travel over 50 miles and for lodging.

OhioMHAS maintains a statewide data base of certified peer supporters. A provider looking to hire peer supporters can contact OhioMHAS, who will send a message to peer supporters in the area that there is an employment opportunity available.

Peer support is an important part of recovery and the continuum of care. The Washington County Behavioral Health Board would like to help expand and encourage their use in our county.

Special thanks are due to Mindy Vance and Eric Wandersleben at OhioMHAS, who provided much of the information used in this article.

Brett Nicholas is a member of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board. Behavioral Health matters appears the first Saturday on Opinion.

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