It is safe to say the dominant concerns of mental health institutions are to stabilize and manage the effects of mental illness. Less attention is brought to bear on actual recovery. There is a growing body of evidence that supports Peer Support Specialists as an effective tool for helping people find recovery. There is enough evidence that Medicare and most Medicaid programs accept billing from certified Peer Support Specialists. There are a growing number of private insurance companies that are accepting billings too. The ones who aren’t accepting billings seem to be studying the dynamics of it. It seems foreign to many of us to think of mental health as something that you have a chance of recovery from.
Carl Rogers was a professor and researcher in psychology. He was distinguished enough in his achievements in mental health that the American Psychological Association gave him an award. His research showed that if you build the person behind the disease you heal the whole person. He noted that for this to work you had to have a very open view of someone. Many therapists could not practice at that level so it is not used much. It seems that people who have recovered from a mental illness can adopt this mindset easily. These people can see the person behind the disease. It offers hope when someone truly understands the challenges you face. The Buddhists suggest that we heal with our presence. Where we offer peace, here is peace. Where we offer healing, there healing is also. We do effect the people around us. Peer Support Specialists impact their consumers in a meaningful way.
So what is a Peer Support Specialist? A Peer Support Specialist is a person who has made significant progress in their own recovery. They are people who are generally interested in the wellness of others. These people are dedicated and seek certification by their state to bill and practice as a Peer Support Specialist. Peer Support Specialists have practical experience in building support for lives challenged by mental illness. They have done it themselves and often know the best local resources. They will know where to help you look for help and know how to speak the language of those sources. Many of them have worked with the agencies for their own needs and have built many good contacts.
Peer Support Specialists work at all levels in the system for example, the CMHS National GAINS Center for Systemic Change for Justice-Involved Persons with Mental Illness is highly supportive of what they call Forensic Peer Support. This is peer support for those with mental illness involved in the criminal justice systems. Some Peer Support Specialists work directly for insurance companies. Some county mental health systems are also using Peer Support Specialists to help in times of shrinking resources and it seems to be working. These individuals, working as a part of a team of practitioners are making a big contribution in the lives of others.
If you are looking to become a certified Peer Support Specialist the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is a good place to start. They have excellent information listed on their web site. They are also a good resource for information if you are looking to contact peer support too.
If you are recovering and not yet sure that you wish to become a Peer Support Specialist that is okay. When you are ready it is rewarding experience to invest yourself in someone’s recovery. To those Peer Support Specialists, agencies, and people effected by mental illness, keep up the good work. It is never to late to begin recovery.