A Peer Specialist is a professional with lived recovery experience who has been trained and certified to help others as they move forward in their own recovery. As someone who has traveled a similar path, a Peer Specialist fosters hope and serves as a valuable role model for those who are walking the road to wellness. DBSA offers a 4-week course that can provide Peer Specialist certification. Learn more about the course here

Become a Peer Specialist

Use your lived experience to help others. Apply to DBSA’s Peer Specialist course.

Apply Now

What’s a Peer Specialist?

A Peer Specialist is a professional with lived mental health experience who is trained and certified to provide support, help, and encouragement for others who are also working their way toward wellness. These specialists may go by different names in different settings and are also known as Recovery Coaches and Lay Counselors.

Regardless of what title they have, Peer Specialists all have a common commitment to helping others, working from a strengths-based perspective. Utilizing peers with shared experiences to deliver services is empowering, and research has proven that this approach is highly effective in:

  • Reducing expensive inpatient service use
  • Reducing recurrent psychiatric hospitalizations for patients at risk of readmission
  • Improving relationships between peers and their health care providers
  • Helping people engage more fully in their own care
  • Significantly increasing each peer’s ability to manage symptoms and reduce reliance on formal services while still achieving positive recovery outcomes

Where do Peer Specialists work?

The rapidly growing peer workforce is an integral part of treatment teams in both public and private settings. Peer Specialists may serve in the Department of Veterans Health Affairs, integrated behavioral health centers, inpatient facilities, community-based mental health centers, and peer-run respite services. Most frequently, Peer Specialists work as paid employees, while others choose to offer their services as volunteers.

Peer Specialists serve in a wide variety of roles, working with individuals and groups to:

  • Create individual service plans based on recovery goals, setting steps to achieve those goals
  • Introduce recovery tools that help with specific challenges
  • Create personalized wellness plans
  • Provide support for decision-making
  • Organize and sustain self-help and educational groups for peers
  • Offer a sounding board and a shoulder to lean on

What qualifications do Peer Specialists need?

Certification requirements for Peer Specialists are determined on a state-by-state basis. Many states require candidates to complete a Peer Specialist training program. There are several training requirement scenarios. Each state determines its own training requirements, which may include:

  • State-approved training offered by outside organizations, such as DBSA’s Peer Specialist Course
  • State-administered Peer Specialist training
  • State-administered Peer Specialist training contracted through outside organizations

After successful completion of the training, candidates must meet certification requirements set by the state where they will practice. Certification is usually not instantly  transferable between states. If you move to another state, you will need to comply with that state’s certification requirements. This can mean you will need to take the training recognized by that state’s certification board. Please check with your own state’s certification board to understand the requirements.

How can I become a Peer Specialist?

Increasingly, the delivery of quality mental health care includes the services of a Peer Specialist—an individual who has experienced mental health or substance use issues and is now living in wellness. These professionals have acquired the specialized skills they need to transform their own experiences into practical, supportive services that help others forge their own path to recovery. Many Peer Specialists serve as adjuncts to the clinical care team, working with peers and medical caregivers to plan treatment, set goals, and provide encouragement along the way.

DBSA offers a 4-week Peer Specialist Course that gives students the opportunity to reflect on their own mental health journey and develop specific skills that will help them work effectively with peers. Our course blends independent study with real-time distance learning, and also includes its core 5-day third week Building the Skills workshop where students will engage in live role play and dynamic discussions. Course work includes assigned outside reading, homework assignments, live group discussions, quizzes, and evaluations. Students must be available to attend all real-time group activities, including all 5 days either online or in person of the third week Building the Skills sessions.

Facilitated by DBSA instructors, this comprehensive and highly interactive course delivers a solid foundation in recovery principles, peer support intervention skills, and ethical practices. Training incorporates small group coaching sessions and can be used to meet many state certification requirements. Please check with your state’s credentialing board to make sure our course will apply to your state’s credentialing requirements.

Individuals or groups can participate in DBSA’s Peer Specialist Course. Our course is VHA-approved.

DBSA often provides the Peer Specialist Course for groups and organizations such as local VHA facilities, community behavioral health centers, local county mental health boards, and private inpatient or outpatient treatment programs. Complete and submit the appropriate individual training application or group training request form.

Frequently Asked Questions

Read some of the frequently asked questions about DBSA’s Peer Specialist course.

View FAQs