Peer Support


What is Peer Support?

Peer Support (sometimes called peer-to-peer) is a method for providing structured, evidence-based assistance to newcomers in recovery through the power and influence of shared experience from others who have successfully walked that path. 

Trained and certified as Peer Support Workers (CPSWs), volunteers and paid staff use their own understanding of and commitment to recovery to establish mutually rewarding relationships that serve to enhance the effectiveness of professional treatment.  

Peer support encompasses a range of activities and interactions between people who share similar experiences of being diagnosed with mental health conditions, substance use disorders, or both. This mutuality between a peer support worker and person in or seeking recovery promotes connection and inspires hope. Peer support offers a level of acceptance, understanding, and validation not found in many other professional relationships. By sharing their own lived experience and practical guidance, peer support workers help people to develop their own goals, create strategies for self-empowerment, and take concrete steps towards building fulfilling, self-determined lives for themselves.

What Are Some Of The Benefits?

Research has shown that participation in structured peer support can help to:

  • Encourage retention in treatment and minimize the risk of ‘drop-outs’
  • Increase motivation for continued change 
  • Reduce episodes of substance use 
  • Decrease high-risk behaviors with respect to crime, disease transmission, and chronic health problems
  • Support sobriety during periods of stress or crisis
  • Mentor newcomers in ways to deal personal and family challenges
  • Help link newcomers to resources (healthcare, education, vocational, parenting, etc.) that improve quality of life and promote success.
  • Help to make new friends and foster a sense of responsibility and belonging 
  • Increase feelings of self-efficacy and optimism about the future.

What Does A Peer Support Worker Do?

A peer support worker is someone with the lived experience of recovery from a mental health condition, substance use disorder, or both. They provide support to others experiencing similar challenges. They provide non-clinical, strengths-based support and are “experientially credentialed” by their own recovery journey (Davidson, et al., 1999). Peer support workers may be referred to by different names depending upon the setting in which they practice. Common titles include: peer specialists, peer recovery coaches, peer advocates, and peer recovery support specialists. (SAMHSA)

Peer support workers can help break down barriers of experience and understanding, as well as power dynamics that may get in the way of working with other members of the treatment team. The peer support worker’s role is to assist people with finding and following their own recovery paths, without judgment, expectation, rules, or requirements. Peer support workers practice in a range of settings, including peer-run organizations, recovery community centers, recovery residences, drug courts and other criminal justice settings, hospital emergency departments, child welfare agencies, homeless shelters, and behavioral health and primary care settings. In addition to providing the many types of assistance encompassed in the peer support role, they conduct a variety of outreach and engagement activities.

Peer Support Workers

  • inspire hope that people can and do recover
  • walk with people on their recovery journeys
  • dispel myths about what it means to have a mental health condition or substance use disorder; provide self-help education and link people to tools and resources; and support people in identifying their goals, hopes, and dreams, and creating a roadmap for getting there

What Are Peer Roles?

Peer support workers engage in a wide range of activities. These include:

  • Advocating for people in recovery
  • Sharing resources and building skills
  • Building community and relationships
  • Leading recovery groups
  • Mentoring and setting goals

Peer support roles may also extend to the following:

  • Providing services and/or training
  • Supervising other peer workers
  • Developing resources
  • Administering programs or agencies
  • Educating the public and policymakers

Peer support workers may need to develop additional core competencies to provide services to specific groups who also share common experiences, such as family members. The shared experience of being in recovery from a mental health and/or substance use condition or being a family member is the foundation on which the peer recovery support relationship is built in the behavioral health arena.

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