When it comes to someone “getting you,” I think we can all agree that we have people in our lives who have different depths of understanding.
For instance, I can have empathy and listening for a parent who has lost their child to suicide but, since I have not had this direct experience, my understanding can only go so far.
In the mental health and addiction field, there are career paths and volunteer opportunities for “peers.” A peer is someone who shares the experience of trauma and/or living with a psychiatric disorder and/or addiction with another to help them in their recovery. Ideally, peers and the individuals they are connected to have high compatibility through a particular experience or diagnosis.
Trust and compatibility are extremely important factors. Through trust and understanding, a peer is able to play a different and critical role in someone’s recovery than that person’s therapist or doctor.
Connecticut is a very peer-minded state in some ways, and MHC – and many others – are looking to expand the visibility of how peers benefit individuals in long-term recovery and also add tremendous value and cost-savings to the system.
In our state, people wishing to become trained in how to apply lived experience in a peer support role, can reach out to Advocacy Unlimited (AU), a peer-run organization, to learn more about becoming trained as a Recovery Support Specialist. Through AU, participants will learn how to apply their direct lived experience to promoting individual growth, advocating for rights, navigating the system, and finding alternative paths to healing.
There is also a national certification through MHC’s mother ship – Mental Health America – which is designed to incorporate state certifications while building a consistent national model. The goal is to shift the mindset from “peers are a nice-to-have” to “peers are an essential part of the workforce in mental health and addiction.”
MHC is the New England training and testing site for the MHA’s national certification which was initiated, created and developed by peers who have the personal experiences, trainings, and job experience to work alongside healthcare teams. A major purpose of the certification is to meet the needs of private health insurers and private practitioners and open up new career paths and opportunities, which have been previously unexplored, for thousands of peers.
According to MHA, the peer workforce has grown to over 24,000 supporters working in all 50 states and U.S. territories. Considered an evidence-based practice by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), peer support is Medicaid reimbursable in over 41 states including Connecticut.
Next time you’re in need to finding someone who understands where you’re coming from, start with a support group. If you or someone you know would like to talk with a peer support specialist, contact AU’s Bridger Program (contact info is listed at the bottom of the page).
When has someone helped you get through a difficult time? Tell us about it!
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