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A Peer Support Specialist is a person who has progressed in their own recovery from alcohol or other drug abuse or mental disorder and is willing to self-identify as a peer and work to assist other individuals with chemical dependency or a mental disorder. Because of their life experience, such persons have expertise that professional training cannot replicate. This is not to be confused with peer educators who may not consider recovery a suitable goal for everyone and may focus instead on the principles of harm reduction.
There are many tasks performed by peer support specialists that may include assisting their peers in articulating their goals for recovery, learning and practicing new skills, helping them monitor their progress, assisting them in their treatment, modeling effective coping techniques and self-help strategies based on the specialist's own recovery experience, and supporting them in advocating for themselves to obtain effective services.
A peer recovery support specialist (P-RSS) is an occupational title for a trained, self-identifying peer of the individual seeking support, who can engage with peers in a community-based recovery center, or outside it around any number of activities, or over the telephone as well. The peer support specialist can work with individuals as they develop and implement a personal recovery plan, which can also serve as a contract for engagement.
Recovery plans can take many forms. A key component of the recovery management model is a personal recovery plan. This plan is drawn up by the individual looking for support, and reviewed with an RSS. This peer-centered recovery plan is instrumental for individuals to "buy into" the process of their recovery.
Central to such plans are the overall health and well-being of each individual, not just their mental health. Components often include support groups and individual therapy, basic health care maintenance, stable housing, improvements in family life and personal relationships as well as community connections. The plan may also include education goals, vocational development and employment. Some plans outline a timetable for monitoring, and/or a plan for re-engagement when needed to balance the health and overall quality of life for each individual. Peer recovery support specialists can be found in an increasing variety of settings, including community-based recovery centers. Funding for peer recovery programs comes from a combination of federal and state agencies as well as local and national charities and grant programs, such as Catholic Charities and the United Way.
When peer support specialists work in publicly funded services, the peer support specialists are required to meet government and state certification requirements. Since the adaptation of the Recovery Management Model by state and federal agencies, peer support specialist courses have been offered by numerous state, nonprofit and for-profit entities such as Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery, PRO-ACT (Pennsylvania Recovery Organization-Achieving Community Together), The McShin Foundation, Tennessee Certified Peer Recovery Specialist Training and Program Appalachian Consulting Group and The State of New York's Office of Addiction Services. PARfessionals has developed the first internationally approved online training program for addictions recovery peer support specialists. In addition, there are numerous for-profit firms that offer peer support specialist training. Training includes courses on the ethics of a recovery coach, recovery coaching core competencies, clinical theories as stages of change, motivational interviewing, and co-occurring disorders.
1. Outreach worker: Identifies and engages hard-to-reach individuals; offers living proof of transformative power of recovery and makes recovery attractive.
2. Motivator: Exhibits faith in client’s capacity for change; encourages and celebrates their recovery achievements and mobilizes internal and external recovery.
3. Resources: Encourages the client’s self-advocacy and economic self-sufficiency.
4. Ally and confidant: Genuinely cares and listens to the client can be trusted with confidences and can identify areas for potential growth.
5. Truth-teller: Provides feedback on the recovery progress. Identifies areas which have presented or may present roadblocks to continued abstinence.
6. Role model and mentor: Offers their life as living proof of the transformative power of recovery and provides stage-appropriate recovery education.
7. Planner: Facilitates the transition from a professionally directed treatment plan to a client-developed and directed personal recovery plan. Assists in structuring daily activities around this plan.
8. Problem solver: Helps resolve personal and environmental obstacles to recovery.
9. Resource broker: Is knowledgeable of links for individuals or for their families, to sources of sober housing, recovery conducive employment, health and social services, recovery support and matches the individuals to particular support groups or twelve-step meetings.
10. Monitor or companion: When the client will be best served with regular, around the clock attendance, or attendance for a set number of hours per day, the client may need a Sober Companion. A Sober Companion can be available for travel in and out of the country. The Sober Companion processes each client’s response to professional services and mutual aid exposures to enhance the engagement, reduce attrition, and resolve problems in the relationship. Additionally, the Sober Companion provides early re-intervention and recovery re-initiation services.
11. Tour guide: Introduces newcomers into the culture of recovery; provides an orientation to recovery roles, rules, rituals, language, etiquette; and opens doors for opportunities for community participation.
12. Advocate: Provides an invaluable service for those resistant to remaining abstinent from drugs and/or alcohol, but who must do so due to legal, medical, family or contractual obligations, as well as, helping the individual’s families navigate complex social, service and legal systems.
13. Educator: Provides a client with normative information about the stages of recovery. They can facilitate the process necessary to remain free from the addiction, inform client of the professional helpers within the community and about the prevalence, pathways, and life-styles of long-term recovery.
14. Community organizer: Every member of the community support center helps develop and expand recovery support resources, enhances cooperative relationships between professional service organizations and local recovery support groups; cultivates opportunities for people in recovery to participate in volunteerism and performs other acts of service to the community.
15. Lifestyle consultant/coach: Supports the client through challenges arising from everyday activities. For some, this is done through several one-on-one sessions each week, while some clients prefer daily telephone contact. Assists individuals and their families to develop sobriety-based rituals of daily living; and encourages activities across religious, spiritual, and secular frameworks that will enhance life meaning and purpose.
16. Friend: Provides sober companionship; a social bridge from the culture of addiction to the culture of recovery.