Peer Support Specialist
Peer support specialists are people who have experienced issues or hardships similar to what their clients may be dealing with. Through their own personal journeys, they have insight into their clients’ experiences. They use their knowledge and lived experience to offer supportive services and resources to clients, such as emotional validation, practical advice and referrals to other services.
Peers can provide a supportive and non-judgmental community for anyone dealing with mental health struggles. They can normalize the experience of living with mental health issues, reducing the stigma and shame often associated with these issues. Peers can offer an understanding and acceptance of the person’s identity that wasn’t always available in more traditional sources of mental health support. As peers offer support to one another, it can also encourage individuals to begin their own journey of recovery.
Peer support specialists are popular because they provide understanding, compassion, and hope to individuals who may be struggling with mental health conditions and other life challenges. With specialized training and lived experience, peer support specialists are equipped to provide meaningful support and guidance tailored to a patient’s individual needs. This can make an invaluable difference by helping individuals struggling with mental health conditions find their way back to emotional health, hope, and healing.
Peer support specialists can use their own personal stories of overcoming mental health challenges to provide inspiration, hope, and motivation to a person who is struggling with mental health challenges. Through sharing their stories, they can create a sense of connection and understanding with the person, demonstrating that it is possible to manage or overcome mental health issues, and that there is a wide variety of resources and strategies available to support recovery. In addition, these stories can give the person valuable insight into how their peers have managed similar mental health challenges.
Peers can be a powerful tool in reducing stigma and raising awareness about mental health because they can be seen as more relatable and less intimidating than people in authority. Peers can breakdown barriers that exist surrounding mental health, create safe and open spaces for dialogue, and more easily reach diverse communities. By utilizing peers to create content and messaging, it is more likely to be tailored to the relevant audience and will facilitate greater understanding of the issue. Additionally, peer involvement can help empower those with mental health issues to share their experiences, create a sense of community, and help promote a message of hope and recovery.
Being trauma informed when addressing mental health and addiction is critical, as research has shown that trauma—particularly for those in marginalized and oppressed communities—is the root cause of many mental health and addiction-related issues. A trauma-informed approach enables individuals to better understand the experiences that lead to unhealthy coping behaviors, such as substance use, and encourages compassionate, non-judgmental care while providing a safe and healing environment. Understanding the experiences and history of individuals can also help providers better identify individual needs and develop more effective treatment plans. Ultimately, a trauma-informed approach can help individuals feel heard and cared for, improving the likelihood of long-term recovery and healing.
Peers often see things from a trauma informed perspective because they understand the trauma experienced by another person, know the ways in which that trauma can manifest, and are committed to responding in a way that is least likely to re-traumatize the person. This perspective speaks to a commitment to providing affirming, supportive, and non-judgmental care that promotes healing.