Individuals have long recognized the impact of peer support—the kind of support that happens when you call a friend who knows how you feel because that person has been there.
Peer support provides that same powerful help in accessible, meaningful ways that broaden the continuum of care offered by traditional “medical” models of care. Pennsylvania Peer Support Services defined peer support as:
Specialized therapeutic interactions conducted by self-identified current or former consumers of behavioral health services who are trained and certified to offer support and assistance in helping others in their recovery and community-integration process. Peer support is intended to inspire hope in individuals that recovery is not only possible, but probable. The service is designed to promote empowerment, self-determination, understanding, coping skills, and resiliency through mentoring and service coordination supports that allow individuals with severe and persistent mental illness and co-occurring disorders to achieve personal wellness and cope with the stressors and barriers encountered when recovering from their disabilities.
Peer support is designed on the principles of consumer choice and the active involvement of persons in their own recovery process. Peer support practice is guided by the belief that people with disabilities need opportunities to identify and choose for themselves their desired roles with regard to living, learning, working, and social interaction in the community. For this reason, the agreement of the individual to receive services is critical.
On an ongoing basis, individuals who receive the service have the opportunity to participate in and make decisions about the activities conducted.
In 2013, a statewide survey concluded the impact of working as Certified Peer Specialists (CPS) was “essential in recovery oriented environments.” Among the findings, working as a CPS:
- Helped bring previously unemployed individuals into the labor market, and
- Helped these individuals generate enough income to reduce or eliminate dependence on Social Security benefits.
Additionally many of the survey participants responded that the work that they do in the CPS capacity was “satisfying and meaningful and… [helped them to] make a difference at their agencies and give back to others.”
Since 2016, these services have included the addition of specialized services for youth aged 14-18.
Become a Peer Support Specialist
Peer Support Specialists are people “living with a mental illness who provide mentoring, guidance, and support services and offers their skills to others who are experiencing psychiatric disabilities and receiving mental health services.”
You can also become a Certified Peer Support Specialist through a two-week certification program.
CPS provides the following support and encouragement:
- Skill building
- Recovery and/or life goal setting
- Problem solving
- Establishing self-help groups
- Building and utilizing self-help recovery tools (such as the WRAP – the Wellness Recovery Action Plan)
- Self advocacy
Consumers who are credentialed through the state’s CPS program must:
- Meet the minimum employment and education standards set by the program
- Successfully complete the training course
- Take an oral and written examination
Access A Peer Provider
Peer Support providers are located across the state. To find the a peer provider in your area, you can explore this map and get connected.
Visit the Pennsylvania Peer Support Coalition‘s website to learn more about Peer Support in Pennsylvania, including training and employment opportunities.