Welcome to our first featured interview in our Peer Spotlight series. This is a special moment for us here at MHAPSS. The reason being is that it’s another step towards building this platform into a vibrant community for all peer support professionals!
But this post isn’t about us. So with that in mind, allow me to introduce you to Morgan Hartrich.
Peer Spotlight Morgan Hartrich
Morgan Hartrich has been in the peer support field since October of 2021. She started as an Engagement Specialist on a 24/7 Mobile Crisis Team. She was promoted into the position of Engagement Specialist Coordinator in October 2022.
She obtained her CRSS certificate in February of this year, and is beyond proud of that designation. Since then, she has also been elected to a spot on the NAMI Illinois Alliance of Peer Professionals board of directors.
Prior to taking a few years off, and beginning her journey in peer support, she worked for a local domestic violence shelter, utilizing her lived experience as a second-hand survivor to advocate for the safety of all men, women and children.
Can you introduce yourself and share a little about your journey as a peer support professional?
My name is Morgan Hartrich and I work as the Engagement Specialist Coordinator for the Mclean County Crisis Team, in Bloomington, IL.
I started out as an Engagement Specialist (peer support worker) in October of 2021. I worked on our county’s only 24/7 mobile crisis team. It was a job I’ve never experienced and one that has changed my life in so many great ways.
After a year of working as an Engagement Specialist, I was promoted to the Coordinator. As of now, I have 4 Engagement Specialists that I supervise, and hope to be hiring a 5th soon.
Your official title is CRSS correct? Could you describe some of the main responsibilities and roles you have?
Yes it is. I took my exam for the CRSS in December of 2022, and received my certificate of credentialing in February of 2023. I know CRSS roles can be different in the various aspects of mental health and substance abuse services, but my role is strictly in crisis mental health.
What that means is that we work in 2-person teams consisting of an MHP (Mental Health Professional) and an Engagement Specialist, and go out to see people in the community and at our local hospitals emergency departments.
We provide crisis intervention services in the form of an assessment, that typically leads to safety planning/providing resources or sometimes inpatient hospitalization, depending on the severity of their symptoms and if they are not able to keep themself safe.
I noticed that you have a few certifications to your name, could you tell me a little about them and what they entail?
CRSS-This is my Certified Recovery Support Specialist and is the credential I obtained to become an Engagement Specialist.
To obtain this certification, I had to complete 2,000 hours of work experience in a mental health recovery role, 100 hours of supervision in the performance domains.
[I had to] have at least a GED or higher, had completed 40 hours of CRSS specific education, 6 hours of professional ethics & responsibility education, and 54 hours of core function education.
MHP-This is my Mental Health Professional credential that I automatically received once I became CRSS certified.
What motivated you to enter this field?
Entering this field was unexpected for me, but definitely one of those “there are no coincidences,” and/or “meant to be” moments. I wasn’t even really looking for a job at the time, as I was in between jobs, having just moved back to Illinois from Massachusetts, and was a stay-at-home Mom at the time.
I had been casually browsing Indeed, but had resigned myself to “if the right job finds me, it finds me.”
And then it did.
I got an alert for the Engagement Specialist position and didn’t think twice about applying for it. I knew that it was the job I was meant to do at this stage in my life.
Was there a specific event or personal experience that inspired you to pursue this career path?
I have a long history of trauma, mental health struggles, self-harm, some substance abuse and furthermore…recovery.
I always wanted to use those experiences to find a silver lining.
I wanted to give back, to nurture others, to show them that there is hope and that they too are deserving of a good life, and that it is available to us all.
Where has this career path led you so far?
After working as an Engagement Specialist for a year, my hard work paid off and I was promoted to the Engagement Specialist Coordinator on our Crisis Team. This is my first supervisory role and my first time having my own office!
(It’s the little things)
I have been in this new role for a year this month! Throughout my 2 years in this field, I have been recently elected to the NIAPP (NAMI Illinois Alliance of Peer Professionals) board of directors, invited to give presentations at our local colleges CRSS study program, and will be a guest speaker at a behavioral health forum, later this month.
What are some of the lessons you have learned since working in this field?
I have learned so much about myself. I have grown as a person, both personally and professionally. I found my voice, after many years of being silenced. I am able to advocate for others in the ways that I was never advocated for.
I have learned to be assertive when I need to be, which is something that I had always struggled with.
I have learned so much more about mental health than I thought was possible, and am able to use my knowledge to help others, as well as to be a role model for my clients and my staff.
I have learned that my well-being and happiness is just as important as everyone else’s, and have used that newly found confidence to become more independent. This role has truly transformed my life.
Tell me about a time when you felt overwhelmed in your role.
To be honest? At least once a week. Haha!
But, I know how to manage it and that is what is important. I know that I am a very emotional person, an empath who wears her heart on her sleeve, and someone who wants to give 110% at all times.
That being said, if I am not careful, I will give so much of myself to others that I eventually will run out of bandwidth to take care of me.
I make sure to keep my self-awareness high enough that I take a step back when I need to, to ask for help/support when I need it, and to do self-care every day…if only for a moment.
So far, what has been the best moment of working in this field?
I don’t think I could narrow it down to one moment.
One that sticks out to me is a client that I meet with fairly often, that I have a strong bond with. She inspired me to try a new coping skill/self-care activity.
It was one that I never wanted to attempt or even had interest in. But, I decided to give it a try one day, because I saw how much it helped her.
So, I painted…an entire replicated painting of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”.
It took me a loooong time and was tedious but I ended up enjoying it so much. Painting has now been added to my mental health “toolbox.” So, that full circle of reciprocal peer support would be considered one of my best moments.
How do you approach building trust and establishing a strong connection with the individuals you support?
This is typically different with each individual, so I can’t say that I have a set routine for building trust and connection. I try to “meet people where they are at.” If they are angry, I let them be angry. If they are sad, anxious, etc…same thing.
I allow them to feel their feelings and reiterate that it’s ok and that I can empathize with them. Sometimes I use humor, when it is appropriate.
You’d be amazed at how therapeutic it can be to laugh with someone that is in crisis. They often need that release more than they know.
Also, I don’t try to tell them what to do, or give advice, or give off the vibe that I am a clinician. I show them that I am one of them, and that I have been in their shoes.
I educate them on what has/does help me manage my symptoms and maintain recovery, but I don’t force them to try what works for me.
I am also honest about my struggles and my setbacks, because as much as I love this job, I still fight my own personal demons. They need to know that. They need to know I can do it and that it doesn’t make me weak, or incompetent or useless.
They need to know that for themselves.
What are some of the key skills and qualities you believe are essential for a successful peer support worker?
Morgan believes some of the key skills in peer support include:
- Being open-minded
- Being at a place in your recovery where working in this field will not become a detriment to your own well-being/mental health
- Being willing to take constructive criticism and to stay open to learning
- Communication, both oral and written
- Generally being able to see the good in others and wanting to make a difference
Peer support work can be emotionally demanding. How do you prioritize self-care and maintain your own well-being while supporting others?
I take a lot of little breaks throughout the work day. Sometimes it’s a 2 minute guided meditation, but that 2 minutes can save my day!
I also constantly remind myself that I can’t pour from an empty cup…I can’t help someone else if I’m not taking care of myself. That applies to my clients, coworkers, family and friends. I give myself permission to rest and “defragment the hard drive,” as one of my coworkers calls it.
I also remind myself that I don’t have to be productive 24/7. Some days I’ll just need to rotate from the bed to the couch, and that is ok. Some days I’ll want to kayak all day, and that is ok. Balance, my friends…it’s all about balance.
What steps do you take to stay updated with the latest research, techniques, and best practices in peer support?
Throughout my first year working in this role, I googled and researched as many different websites that I could find that provided resources for the CRSS role. I signed up for all of their email newsletters and took as many online webinars that I could.
I’ve managed to build a huge online library of educational resources for working in the mental health field as a peer support staff. I continue to review information as it changes and progresses within this role and share it with my colleagues.
I also find books and articles that help me to become a better peer supporter.
Pinterest and Instagram are valuable tools for working in this role! There are so many coping skills, self-care ideas, therapeutic techniques, worksheets, team building ideas, client rapport building activities, support group ideas, etc that I use with my clients as well as my colleagues.
Instagram has a lot of successful mental health peer organizations that post lived-experience expertise, uplifting quotes, affirmations and mantras…all that I use on a weekly basis for myself and those around me.
Are there any specific challenges you have encountered in your role as a peer support worker?
If we are talking about challenges with working with clients, I would say that my biggest challenge is working with patients that are in psychosis.
That is not something that I have lived experience with, and it is definitely something that I feel challenges me in regards to communication and determining if they can keep themselves safe. I’m still trying though, and educating myself as much as I can.
I am confident that it will get easier with time and practice.
Another overall challenge is my anxious, perfectionist nature. I have to “check myself” when I am encountered with colleagues that I don’t feel are giving enough, paying attention to detail, not showing passion for the work.
I remind myself that although my expectations are high, it is not fair to expect the 110% I give to also be given by others. It’s just not rational and not everyone is capable, or wants to do so. And that is ok.
Things will get messy, and we will all learn, but at the end of the day it is not my job to make the entire ship sail as smoothly as I expect it to.
In your opinion, what are some of the most effective strategies or approaches you have used to encourage and motivate individuals on their recovery journey?
This is a difficult question to answer…as I use such different strategies with each person I see. My baseline is utilizing my lived experience to have those hard conversations. I try to show the clients what “their world” would look like if they chose not to care for themselves.
I show them that it’s a ripple effect to everyone around them that cares about them.
Sometimes I try to help them bring out their healthy anger, especially when they have past trauma or have been victimized, as I have been many times.
One of my go-to lines is, “Don’t give them one more minute.”…in regards to an abuser. They don’t have to have one more minute of your life than they have already taken. I try to show them that they always have a choice, even when they don’t think they do, and oftentimes that is every client I meet.
What message or advice would you like to share with fellow peer support workers who are wanting to make a difference in the lives of others?
Apply for the job! But remember these key things…
Boundaries are non-negotiable for both you and the client. Healthy boundaries will keep the peer support as it should be, mutual yet professional.
Don't Blame Yourself...
Know that you can’t save the world. You will have days that you feel defeated. You will have days when a client passes away at their own hands. These days are definitely not the majority, but they will still happen.
Do not blame yourself, and do not give up on peer support. We are planting seeds with each person we interact with.
They just grow at their own pace
Notice the small victories…these will be abundant! Did a client call the Crisis hotline instead of doing something detrimental to themselves? That is a win.
Was your safety plan with a client so full of great info that they went home and began working on the action plan that you helped them form?
That is a win.
Did you make someone laugh who typically yells at the rest of the staff? (True story)
That is a win.
Keep Up With Your Own Recovery...
Keep up with your own recovery. Recovery is a daily job. Your most important job. My most important job. OUR most important job.
Put your oxygen mask on before you help those around you. And remember, as you get older, recovery can look different. Some things don’t work anymore and you will find new techniques. Some that didn’t work before, now become a go-to for self-care.
Growth is beautiful.
Is there anything else you want to add about yourself or peer support as a whole?
For anyone that is thinking of working in this field and may be feeling unsure:
Take it one day at a time. One work shift at a time. I’m unsure of myself some days, and that is ok…most of the time my coworkers and peers don’t even notice, but I assure you, I too struggle with feeling unsure.
Typically when I am feeling unsure, it is because I am either overthinking a situation or not giving myself enough credit.
Give yourself credit! You are stronger and more capable than your fear is telling you.
Remind yourself that you survived your trauma, mental health struggles, and/or addiction for a reason.
It was not your time to go, and you are here to break the glass ceilings of recovery and peer support. Trust your intuition. Every time that I don’t, whether it be in my personal life or my professional life in peer support, it backfires.
We are wise beyond our years for a reason! Learn to advocate for yourself and practice assertiveness in small doses. It won’t happen overnight, but you’ll gain confidence the more you try.
Morgan currently resides in Bloomington, IL and continues to work at The Center for Human Services, on the Crisis Team.
In her personal livelihood, she enjoys her three children, her dog Lily, cooking, reading, meditation, yoga, hiking, kayaking and just being an eternal optimist with a passion for serving others.
To learn more about Morgan and the incredible work she is doing, check out the following links.
Morgan’s Professional Links: