If you are on the fence about taking the next step and beginning your peer support career, this article is for you. We are going to cover the benefits and rewards that come with this role and give you an idea of what to expect.
In other words, we will answer the question, “Why become a peer support specialist?”.
The Role of a Peer Support Specialist
At its core, a peer support specialist serves as a bridge between professional mental health services and the lived experiences of those seeking help. Their primary responsibility is to provide emotional, social, and practical support to individuals facing mental health challenges.
However, what truly sets them apart is their unique perspective, having personally navigated the complexities of mental health.
Lived Experience Combined with Training
Unlike other professionals in the field, peer support specialists bring their own stories of recovery and resilience.
This lived experience, combined with formal training, allows them to offer insights and strategies that resonate with their peers.
Because of having been through it themselves, they know the common pitfalls and struggles that come with recovery. Rather than seeing resistance, they recognize the fears and uncertainties that may be expressed by their peers.
Overall, this deep understanding of the journey is what opens the door for connection and support.
Guidance and Mentorship
Drawing from their personal journeys, peer support specialists offer guidance on coping strategies, resources, and tools that have proven effective for them. They serve as mentors, helping others see the potential for recovery and growth.
Moreover, they are examples of hope to those still struggling.
Advocacy and Empowerment
Mental health and addiction treatment can be overwhelming and sometimes down right intimidating. Because of this, peer support specialists often play a pivotal role in advocating for the needs and rights of those they support.
They empower individuals to voice their concerns, make informed decisions, and actively participate in their recovery journey. They stand proudly beside those they support, reminding them that their voice matters.
Benefits of Becoming a Peer Support Specialist
Choosing a career as a peer support specialist is not just about securing a job; it’s about embracing a purpose-driven path. Let’s look at some of the benefits that come with stepping into this role.
Personal Growth and Healing
Peer support is a two way street that offers transformative healing. By helping others, many peer support specialists find that they further their own healing.
Sharing personal stories and witnessing the growth of others can be a therapeutic process in itself.
Stepping outside of yourself not only expands your perspective on life, but it fosters empathy and understanding for the world around you.
Self-awareness and Reflection
The role often requires deep introspection. Overall, this allow peer specialists to gain deeper insights into their own recovery journey and personal growth.
My own experience in this career has fundamentally changed the way I approach recovery. It has allowed me to grow past my limitations and find a confidence that is beyond what I have ever known.
Does all this sound cheesy and a little over the top? Maybe.
But sometimes cheesy and over the top is the only way to express the truth.
The field offers numerous opportunities for trainings and certifications in a wide variety of skills. Because of this, doors are opened to advanced roles within the mental health sector.
Whether you are interested in specialized roles or the larger aspects of public health, peer support can provide a solid foundation to work from.
Plus, being a peer support specialist provides opportunities to connect with professionals across the mental health field. With the rising demand for telehealth and virtual support, there’s even more potential for career growth.
Building Strong Relationships
The bonds formed between a peer support specialist and those they support can be profound. Built on trust and mutual understanding, these relationships can be life-changing for both parties. Moreover, the feelings of community are unmatched.
Peer support is a community. Along with the individuals we work with, we are connected to our colleagues and peers from around the country.
Together we can accomplish more than we know.
Making a Difference
There’s an unmatched satisfaction in seeing someone you support make strides in their recovery. As a peer support specialist, you’re often a pivotal part of that transformative journey.
Believe me when I say, a simple thank you can be the most meaningful gift there is.
More than that however, is the impact that peer specialists can have on their overall community. They often play a role is shaping a more understanding and compassionate view of mental health and addiction.
We stand united with those we support saying, “We are more than just a diagnosis”.
The Rewards of Peer Support
While the role of a peer support specialist comes with its challenges, the rewards are immeasurable.
Here’s a glimpse into the fulfilling aspects of this career:
Few things compare to the joy of witnessing a peer reclaim their life. In this position we get to watch as individuals find their strength and embark on a path of recovery.
Knowing you played a part in that journey brings meaning and fulfillment.
As a peer specialist, you’re more than just a supportive ear. You’re facilitating transformative change and helping people find a better way of living.
Seeing peers grow, develop resilience, and achieve their goals is a testament to the power of peer support.
Sense of Purpose
Every day, you’re making a difference. It may be a small gesture, a listening ear, or guiding someone through the darkest moments. Either way, the role provides a strong sense of purpose and meaning. Because of this simple fact, it makes a career in peer support far more than just a job.
With each individual you support, you are making a difference in the world.
As the value of peer support becomes more recognized, specialists often find appreciation and respect within the broader mental health community. Their unique insights and contributions can play critical roles in the course of not only an individuals care, but the overall field of mental health.
Not that it’s the end goal, but who doesn’t appreciate a little recognition.
The Growing Demand for Peer Support
The mental health landscape is undergoing a significant shift, with an increasing emphasis on holistic, patient-centered care. Central to this transformation is the role of peer support specialists.
Here’s a look at the growing demand and value of peer support in today’s world.
Statistics Speak Volumes
Recent studies indicate a steady rise in the number of organizations integrating peer support into their mental health services.
In fact, one report states that there are 2,311 mental health facilities throughout the United States offering some form of peer services. As for the number of substance abuse facilities the number is almost tripled with 6,806.
Moreover, peer support has been shown to:
- Improve quality of life
- Increase treatment engagement and satisfaction
Improve social integration
Increase self confidence and resilience
- Reduce the overall cost of services provided
Decrease admission and rehospitalizations
Reduce the length of inpatient stays
Reduce stigma and isolation
Feedback From Peers
Mental health professionals increasingly acknowledge the value that peer support specialists bring to the table.
Their lived experience, combined with professional training, offers a perspective that’s both relatable and insightful.
Many individuals on their recovery journey highlight the comfort and understanding they feel when working with a peer support specialist.
In fact, I can personally attest to this. I hear daily how much it means to people to be working with someone who understands where they are coming from.
Challenges and How to Overcome Them
While the role of a peer support specialist is rewarding, it’s not without its challenges. Recognizing these challenges and being equipped to address them is crucial for long-term success and well-being.
Given the emotional nature of the role, peer support specialists can sometimes feel overwhelmed, leading to burnout. In other word, the constant exposure to the pain and trauma of those they support can begin to take a toll.
To combat this, peer specialists should seek regular supervision and prioritize self care.
Remember, self-care isn’t selfish; it’s a necessity.
Maintaining Professional Boundaries
The connections formed in peer support relationships can be profound. So much so that they can sometimes blur the lines between professional and personal boundaries.
Setting and maintaining professional boundaries is not only an important aspect to a peer specialist’s wellbeing, its an ethical obligation. Regular supervision combined with continued training on ethics and boundaries will help you avoid any questionable situations.
The mental health field is ever evolving, and new research is coming out on a regular basis. Because of this, staying up to date on everything can sometimes feel daunting. Not to mention, its hard to even know where to start!
Continuing education courses, along with training, workshops, and conferences are great opportunities to stay at the top of your game.
Additionally, there are online resources such as MHAPSS, iNAPS, and SAMHSA that can provide a wealth of knowledge to help keep you up to date.
The Pennsylvania Peer Support Coalition also has some amazing resources that will get you started on the right foot.
Managing Personal Triggers
Given their lived experience, certain situations or stories might trigger personal memories or emotions for a peer specialist. Self awareness is key in these situations and will help you recognize when you may need to reach out for some additional support.
Remember, just because your job is helping others, that doesn’t mean you won’t need help yourself. In fact, I recommend having a support system in place when these moments occur. Taking care of your own wellbeing is the first step in providing meaningful and effective support.
So, Why Become a Peer Support Specialist?
From my own experience, I can tell you now that it is a choice that changed my life. While being a peer specialist may have it’s challenges, the rewards (both professionally and personally) are unmatched.
By choosing to become a peer support specialist, you’re not only advancing your own growth and healing, but also lighting the way for countless others.
We hope we have inspired you to take the next step and begin the next chapter in your own recovery journey.
Would you do us a favor and let us know how we are doing? We appreciate your feedback and look forward to having you as part of the peer support community.
Elijah Meason is a Certified Peer Support Worker in the State of New Mexico. He is a SMART Recovery facilitator and is working toward getting his Masters degree in social work. He is currently working at a dual diagnosis treatment center helping individuals overcome mental health and addiction challenges.