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How to Become a Peer Support Specialist

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Have you overcome a mental health condition or substance use disorder? Are you also thinking about changing your career path?

You may be unsure which direction to take, but have you considered becoming a peer support specialist?

You may have never heard of this essential role, but it’s a rewarding job for those who have fought through a personal struggle. Mental Health America (MHA) report a study that followed 401 individuals using peer-staffed crisis centers and 1,796 who didn’t. Results showed that over one year, individuals using peer-run centers had 2.9 fewer hospitalizations than those who didn’t. 

If you want to improve the quality of life of those struggling with a mental illness, you should consider becoming a peer support specialist. If you’ve battled an alcohol or drug problem and want to inspire overs to make progress, this field can also be a good one for you. 

Here, we’ll explain what a peer support specialist is, what you’d do, and how to become one. Read on!

What Is a Peer Support Specialist?

Psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and counselors all provide slightly different services. These services are all critical for individuals suffering from mental illness or addictions. Unfortunately, sometimes local resources are overstretched or unavailable in times of immediate need.

What’s more, some service providers may not make significant progress in every case. Some individuals may not feel able to connect with their care provider. It may not be enough that they have the professional qualifications to help.

This is where a peer support specialist comes in. Having been in the same position as their client, they have found useful ways to beat addiction or cope with a mental illness.

A peer support specialist provides invaluable insight into recovery. They have also learned the skills needed to help others with their knowledge.

A client can often bond with a peer support specialist in a way that is not usually possible with someone who hasn’t been through the same crisis. A friendly relationship may be easier to form for clients who can identify with their support specialist. This bond of trust may make it more likely that the client will share their feelings, leading to breakthrough moments in recovery.

Why Choose a Peer Support Specialist Career?

The desire to help is usually a prerequisite for someone choosing this path. Knowing how difficult it was to solve personal problems often creates a desire to pass on these survival tools.

You will need to show a lot of empathy to clients, which comes naturally to those who care enough to be driven by others’ success. Ideally, you would need good interpersonal skills to become a peer support specialist. These skills can be learned or practiced if they don’t come easily. 

Being a good listener is strongly required. Good overall communication skills are also necessary, along with a problem-solving mentality.

With the rise of telehealth services, peer support specialists can reach underserved areas to make a difference. Employers include outpatient counseling services, educational institutions, medical centers, and community services.

Peer support specialists reduce the need for inpatient admissions and hospitalizations. They also decrease the financial burden on mental health resources.

Most importantly, they lower self-stigmatization and increase the self-esteem of their clients. This is a rapidly growing area that is transforming the mental health system and the lives of those who need support.

Responsibilities of a Peer Support Specialist Job

A peer support specialist is dedicated to improving the lives of their clients in a variety of ways:

  • Devising recovery goals
  • Formulating action plans 
  • Helping clients learn life skills
  • Teaching coping strategies and techniques
  • Nurturing client strengths
  • Crisis management
  • Fostering community relationships
  • Locating and connecting clients to local services
  • Connecting the client with career services

You’ll be a friend and mentor to your clients, with an active caseload of 10-20 individuals being expected. You may organize and run support groups as part of your role.

After identifying the areas that your client has the most difficulty with, you can work on these goals first. An isolated person who suffers from depression may need support getting out into the community more. As a role model for your client, you’re living proof that they can achieve their goals, and you encourage them to stay the course.

Those suffering from debilitating conditions may need help with life skills, like budgeting money. The client may need your assistance to meet their overall goal of becoming more independent.

How to Become a Peer Support Specialist

Most states require training to become peer support specialists. Depending on the state or county where you live or intend to work, the requirements are different. Certification also depends on which state or county you intend to serve.

There may also be work experience requirements or other eligibility criteria. This depends on which positions you apply for in the future. Intermediate computer skills may also be necessary as a valid driver’s license.

A good employment tip is to contact services related to your recovery experience. For example, if you have survived alcoholism, you might want to look at the rehab center’s specific job requirements.

Some job titles may be worded slightly differently, and some, but not all, may require a degree, such as in social services, psychology, or counseling. If you are thinking about becoming a peer support specialist, an associate’s degree or certificate program in a related field may give you an edge over other candidates who have not received formal education in the field of addiction or mental health.

Research the education and work experience requirements for your local area and in the state, you reside.  California certifications are available through CCAPP and do not require extensive education. 

Peer Support Specialist

We’ve shown that your life skills are valuable as a peer support specialist if you’ve overcome a mental health condition or substance abuse disorder. Your lack of education or certification may not initially prevent you from seeking work in the field; however, if you want to advance your career in the field of substance use disorder counseling, we can help.

If you are interested in studying for an associate’s degree or certificate program, contact us. We provide education for careers in allied health, business, and skilled trade industries. Our college campuses are in California, and we also offer online programs for distance learning.

Click here to get started.

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