Peers are people in recovery from mental health conditions, and peer supporters use their life’s experience to help others along pathways to recovery. They are living proof that recovery is possible, and that living with mental illness can create some professional opportunities, too.
Put simply, a peer is a person we identify with in some capacity. This can include anything from age to gender to sexual orientation to shared language.
In behavioral health, a peer is usually used to refer to someone who shares the experience of living with a psychiatric disorder and/or addiction. In that narrow context any people living with those conditions are peers. But most people are far more specific about whom they would rely on for peer support. Trust and compatibility are extremely important factors.
Peer support is the “process of giving and receiving encouragement and assistance to achieve long-term recovery.” Peer supporters “offer emotional support, share knowledge, teach skills, provide practical assistance, and connect people with resources, opportunities, communities of support, and other people” (Mead, 2003; Solomon, 2004). In behavioral health, peers offer their unique lived experience with mental health conditions to provide support focused on advocacy, education, mentoring, and motivation.
Peers go by many names and can work in many different settings. While many are volunteers, many other peers have additional training and certification that demonstrates their skills and knowledge and allow them to earn a living as a peer specialist. Combined with their lived experience and ability to engage and connect with consumers, peer supporters – especially certified peer specialists – are a dynamic and growing group that continue to transform lives and systems and are expected to be an important part of the behavioral health workforce for many years to come.
Interested in learning more about certified peer specialists, or becoming one yourself? Just click here.