What is Peer Support?
A peer is someone who has experienced challenges maintaining mental health and/or is in recovery from substance use. These challenges and the resulting experiences of addressing them are referred to as “lived experience” and may include a history of accessing services in the mental health system. Peer support is the process of two (or more) people with lived experience sharing and learning from each other in order to practice building a healthy relationship while giving and receiving support. Peer Support seeks to build on each person’s ability to self-manage their own challenges and/or extreme experiences as they move towards the life they want for themselves.
The Peer Support Model
We value the Peer Support model as the foundation for the peer communication perspective. Our Peer Support Specialists practice Intentional Peer Support through one-on-one meetings with peers, facilitation of peer support groups, education, and outreach. The Peer Support Specialist also supports clients of MBH in connecting to wellness/recovery opportunities in the community and accessing other community support services when appropriate. Peers know, from their lived experience, the value of talking about their struggles and learning from other people. They can also be a source of hope and inspiration to people who are struggling to find hope.
Meet Our Peers
Read about one of the Peer Support Specialists who works at Maine Behavioral Healthcare.
Peer Support is Different
Peer support creates space for insight and a valuable perspective very different from traditional clinical approaches. By focusing on “what happened to you", rather than “what’s wrong with you", we learn and talk about experiences in new ways. Peer support is not about providing a service to one person; it is about each person being responsible for their own challenges and the action needed to address them. The practice of peer support is, intentionally, the practice of healthy human relationships and is very different from clinical and traditional service relationships.
Peer Support Specialists are people who have struggled with challenges maintaining mental health, recovery from substance use or both. They have demonstrated resiliency and perseverance in their own wellness or recovery. A Peer Support Specialist is a peer that is willing to self-identify on that basis and is effective in communicating about their lived experience in a way that fosters a healthy relationship. The relationship is centered on each person exploring wellness, challenges and new ways of thinking.
Our Peer Support Specialists are required to maintain a certification in Intentional Peer Support.
We continue to develop opportunities for Peer Support Specialists throughout our varied programs. In order for those peer support employment opportunities to be fulfilled, it is vital that more peers are trained in Intentional Peer Support.
What is required for certification?
Certification includes eight days of core training and a year of continuing education and skill building groups.
Maintaining certification includes the following annual requirements:
- Complete eight (or more) hours of continuing education
- Participate in 12 hours of skill-building groups
- A biannual review to insure commitment to core concepts
Where can I get certification?
Certification is given through the Department of Health & Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA).
How much does it cost?
The Certified Intentional Peer Support program is free to all interested peers, including paying for mileage and facilitating ride sharing for peers without their own transportation.
Ready to start?
If you are a peer and are interested, please visit SAMHSA’s Intentional Peer Support page.
Peer support relationships form healthy, wellness-focused connections between two (or more) people who experience challenges maintaining mental health and/or recovery from substance use. Peers engage in a mutual process of giving and receiving non-clinical, human-to-human support that allows them to explore their life experiences in different ways. Having insightful, supportive relationships with someone who has “been there” is what many in recovery value most about peer support relationships. Peer relationships are based in a belief that everyone matters and has something valuable to offer the world.
The Principles of Intentional Peer Support
- Focusing on hope and possibilities instead of fear. (Trying new things is about hope for a better future, not the fear of consequences or negative responses)
- Focusing on the relationship rather than the individual. (Both people in the relationship deserve to have their needs and wants heard, respected, and discussed)
- Learning together instead of helping. (We seek to learn from each other, with each other, instead of only fixing the other person’s problems. We are both empowered to take the actions needed for our own benefit.)
It’s not easy!
Peer Support Relationships are often challenging. The relationship builds a confidential, authentic, and trusting connection that fosters a space where both people can be challenged on their assumptions and ideas. When a Peer comes together with another person to intentionally have a different, sometimes challenging relationship, it requires both people to understand the intent and responsibility to the relationship. That may include some discomfort while maintaining a willingness to stay focused throughout a challenge in order to learn.
Each person can become even more resilient in their own lives through exploring ideas and trying new actions. As each person practices creating healthy relationships, they are better able to build a supportive network in their own community with the skills and knowledge they have gained.
Peer Support Specialists work together with people to:
- Create an authentic secure space to discuss hard topics and thoughts so each person can learn about themselves without fear of negative or coercive responses.
- Talk openly about their overall wellness and/or recovery experience.
- Create a deep understanding of a person’s life experiences and how that influences their present perspective.
- Identify personal strengths that can help each person reach and maintain the life they want.
- Develop positive strategies that will help each person to better support their mental health.
- Build and practice healthy relationship skills, so each person can create stronger natural support networks that allow them to participate fully in a happy life, work, and community.
- Increase our understanding of mental health and wellness including exploring substance use when relevant.
- Creating plans and strategies for times of intense challenges.
- Build confidence and self-advocacy skills.
“People don’t always need advice, sometimes all they really need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen and a heart to understand them.” - Anonymous