Use Your Lived Experience to Work as a Peer Support Specialist

Being surrounded by like-minded people who have gone through similar struggles and know the challenges firsthand of living with a mood disorder can be validating, and providing that validation can be rewarding. Just ask Monica, a peer support specialist in DBSA’s Senior Strength program.

When Monica first started meeting with Maria, a participant in the DBSA senior strength program, Maria did not want to get up off the couch. Monica developed a rapport with her by asking her about her interests. As it turned out, they have a shared interest in baking, though Maria had not baked anything in some time. After some encouragement, the two were busy making an ingredient list for Maria’s next shopping trip. Today, as the two of them check-in over video chat, they reminisce that when they would meet in person, they would take walks together outside in the garden.

If you are seeking a profession where your lived experience is valued, consider enrolling in the DBSA Peer Specialist 5-week Course. This 74-hour hybrid course blends independent learning, remote group learning and a dedicated, 5-day, 37-hour virtual Building the Skills workshop. The workshop brings together all students at one time in a virtual environment for instructor-led coursework and role playing. Upon completion of the course, the student will be exposed to all the current SAMHSA-identified peer specialist core competencies.

Peer support, an evidence-based model of care, can take multiple forms. Peer support services as defined by SAMHSA encompass a range of activities and interactions between people who share similar experiences of being diagnosed with mental health conditions, substance use disorders, or both. By sharing their own lived experience and practical guidance, certified peer support specialists:

  • help people to develop their own goals,
  • create strategies for self-empowerment, and
  • take concrete steps towards building fulfilling, self-determined lives for themselves.

For many, working with a peer support specialist who has similar lived experiences can ease the first steps toward healing. These paraprofessionals receive training and are often required to be certified by their state certification board. The DBSA national office offers a peer-specialist course that is recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs and some state certification boards as well.

Monica explains why she chose this line of work this way: “When you see someone making plans and following through and know that you helped them achieve that goal, it warms your heart.”

Your voice can make a difference

DBSA is currently advocating for state and national policies around access to mental health services. As a DBSA advocate, you play an important role in communicating with your state and federal legislators about the important needs in your community. Stay tuned for targeted communications to let them know how your family and others are being impacted and call on them to ensure that access to mental health coverage is seen as a right and not a privilege.

Join Our Movement

DBSA Continues to Ask Congress to Include Peer Support in COVID Packages

While Americans experience the worst behavioral health crisis in our lifetimes, DBSA stands in awe of the support that our chapter leaders, facilitators and volunteers bring to their communities every day. We also recognize that during these difficult times, many of us could use some extra support as an extension of the regular chapter support group meeting.

To support our chapter leaders, facilitators and support group participants, DBSA applied for and received a grant from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to provide five weeks of peer support services to individuals in our chapter network system during June and July. These services are delivered by a certified peer support specialist:

  • at no cost to the individual receiving the service;
  • through weekly, one-hour visits;
  • via video conferencing or a phone call.

As the state of Americans’ mental health declines as a result of the pandemic, grants such as the one from SAMHSA are needed more than ever. As the national leading peer-directed organization for people living with mood disorders, DBSA sent each member of Congress a letter outlining the hardship physical distancing has on people living with mental health conditions and requested future relief packages include funding for providing more peer support services. DBSA advocates also sent letters and shared personal stories describing why funding for peer support is so critical at this time. As Patricia from Florida put it so well:

“Requests for services have recently increased exponentially. Peer-to-peer mental health services are cost-effective, but they still require funding.”