Lived Experience Informing Support
Peer Support Specialists (PSS) can be the keystone of an effective holistic treatment program for those struggling with a mental illness or addiction. Often acting as a navigator of community support systems and informed by lived experiences, someone struggling with a mental illness or addiction can be guided throughout the entire process of recovery increasing the likelihood of progressive treatment.
So how does the experience of a diagnosed mental illness or addiction help those who treat said illnesses? Working in conjunction with clinical staff, Peer Support Specialists fill a large gap in rapport that many clinical professionals of recovery programs cite as a barrier to progressive treatment. While mental health professionals are trained and certified in various forms of treatment, many lack the lived experiences that inform their empathy and sympathy, two of the most crucial characteristics in the health profession. Patients often cite feeling more confidence and comfort while pursuing treatment if they know recovery is truly possible, and if someone who has been in their shoes is willing to walk them down the all too scary, uncertain path of recovery.
One of the more valuable services a PSS can provide is daily communication and motivation, especially in times of relapse or crisis. PSS are often the first line of contact and support during the toughest of times and offer emotional and motivational backing for clients when they need it the most. They will coordinate transportation to and from treatment, help individuals through the process of reintegrating with friends and family, and help link them to a variety resources with a primary goal of increasing quality of life.
Perhaps the highlight of the Peer Support Specialist’s relationship with someone in recovery is the reciprocity of support and the role that the responsibility of mentorship can play in their own journey of recovery. In the case of mental illness and addiction, recovery is a lifelong process with highs and lows. While PSS can be an example of successful treatment and recovery, they too struggle with these highs and lows and can even find themselves in relapse or crisis, sometimes years after exiting treatment. Even so, many cite a greater sense of intrinsic motivation towards maintenance and recovery that can be directly attributed to the mentor/mentee relationship. One of the most profound forms of leadership a PSS can offer is to “walk the walk” they so zealously advocate to their clients.
Where can you find a Peer Support Specialists to support you through your journey of recovery? PSS can be found in hospitals, community mental health centers, as well as private health organizations. Some of their clinical responsibilities include working with other clinicians to coordinate care, creating and implementing social activities for consumers, and even assisting in securing housing and/or employment.
The fact is we need more Peer Support Specialists. With concerns for mental health becoming a staple in the public conversation on what it means to live a healthy and happy life, more and more demands will be placed on the already overburdened system of mental health services in our communities. For rural areas this will prove to be an even more challenging problem, not to mention the hold that taboo and stigma have on these isolated communities.
Peer Support Specialists can certainly play an important role in treatment and help to turn a good program into a great one. For additional information on Peer Support, go to: https://www.integration.samhsa.gov/workforce/team-members/peer-providers.