Peer Support Specialists Increase Likelihood of Recovery from Mental Illnesses and Addictions

September 10, 2020

NJAMHAA Virtual Conference Features Experts on Peer Support

A wealth of research demonstrates the effectiveness of peer support services as peers motivate individuals to begin and continue with mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) treatment and guide them along their paths to recovery. Peers, who are individuals in recovery themselves, inspire others by sharing their similar experiences in overcoming challenges and demonstrating that recovery is possible. This support, along with clinical treatment, is even more critical now as the COVID-19 pandemic has led to exacerbated mental illnesses and SUDs, as well as development of such disorders in many others. Peers also benefit by the meaningful purpose they have in these roles, which enhances their determination to achieve lifelong recovery.

The University of North Carolina defines peer support specialists as individuals who are living in recovery with mental illnesses and/or substance use disorders who provide support to others based on their individual experiences. By sharing life experiences, peer support specialists can offer insight into individuals' treatment, in addition to providing mentorship, coaching and advocacy. North Dakota's Department of Human Services highlights that peer support specialists can serve as a pro-social model and establish positive relationships with individuals who are in treatment or recovery. In recent years, there has been evidence that supports the effectiveness of peer support specialists. According to Mental Health America, peer support specialists have reduced re-hospitalization rates and the number of initial inpatient stays; have lowered the need for and overall costs of treatment services; and have increased the use of outpatient services and the quality of life outcomes. Click here for more data about peer support specialists.

Jersey Expert Shares Insights on Recruiting and Training Peer Support Specialists

"The best practice for recruiting and training peer support specialists is making constructive and reflective supervision available. Ideally, the supervisor is a person in recovery.Training can only do so much. I think there is too much focus on sending people to training after training, conference after conference and not enough time helping the person to do the job and grow through reflecting on their peer support work and getting good guidance from fellow peers or supervisors," said Margaret Swarbrick, PhD, FAOTA, Director of the Institute for Wellness & Recovery Initiatives at Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey, and Innovation Director at Rutgers Health - University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC). The other big problem is that most of the training is clinically focused training, so then, peer supporters often act like clinicians and forget about the peer support work."

Dr. Swarbrick, along with Jeanmarie Leitch, PhD, LPC, NCC, ACS, Program Manager at UBHC, will lead a workshop called "Best Practices for Recurring Training and Retaining a Vibrant Peer Support Workforce" during the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies' (NJAMHAA's) Annual Conference, which will be hosted virtually October 29-30, 2020 to ensure safety for all participants. This year's conference's theme, "Reimaging Healthcare", is even more fitting because of the changes in service delivery required by the pandemic and the increasing need for peer support specialists during this health crisis - not only due to the onset or exacerbation of symptoms in response to various coronavirus-related factors, but also social isolation, which could contribute to symptoms and disrupt individuals' progress toward recovery. They may feel disconnected from their support networks or from people who can relate to their experiences. Peer Support Specialists can provide encouragement to individuals in recovery as they are experiencing similar obstacles and could be contending with similar emotional challenges.

Click here to learn more about the conference and here to register.


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