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What Is a Peer Support Worker? What Do They Do?

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

It’s not uncommon for people to have a passion for working in the mental health field. This provides the opportunity to help others overcome issues they struggle with directly.

One of the unique occupations in this industry is peer support workers. However, many people aren’t sure what they do or how they help.

Read on to learn more about what it means to be a peer support worker and what you can expect if this is the path you’re considering.

What Are Peer Support Workers?

Peer support workers, also called peer support specialists, provide support and information to people who struggle with mental health issues.

They typically have a personal experience with the condition they work with and can provide an empathetic ear and advice, encouragement, and guidance.

In California, the Department of Health Services (DHCS) has included peer support as a provider type as part of the reimbursable services, likely meaning more demand in the workforce for those trained in peer support. You can learn more by reading about SB 803, signed by the Governor of California in 2020.

How Do Peer Support Workers Help People?

A peer support worker will hear from those who are struggling from their point of view.

They know that it isn’t easy to overcome challenges such as OCD, stress, anxiety, depression, or any number of other mental health concerns. These workers will listen to individuals talk about what they’re going through and perhaps even share their own experiences.

This will help them understand that they are not alone in this battle.

They also provide resources for individuals who want to learn more about the condition they’re experiencing. They can answer questions that individuals may have and give their insight into the issue, including warning signs that might indicate a person needs to seek additional help from a professional.

Where Do They Work?

Many peer support workers work in a variety of settings.

They may be hired by a mental health clinic or treatment center where they have the opportunity to provide services. They can also be employed by private organizations that help those with mental health conditions. The tasks they complete will depend on the organization where they work.

They offer support services usually in person, but it can be over the phone or online. This could occur either individually or in groups.

Peer Support Worker Responsibilities

The primary responsibility of any peer support worker is to provide emotional support for individuals who are struggling with serious mental illness. There is always a chance that the individual may turn to substance use to help them cope with difficult situations or struggle with addiction.

However, it’s also essential for them to have open communication and strong dialogue, and trust within peer support work. It may be the job of the peer support workers to lend an ear to allow individuals to vent their feelings and express themselves without fear of judgment. This is especially important for those uncomfortable with discussing mental health concerns.

Required Peer Support Worker Skills

Strong interpersonal skills will come in handy for anyone considering working as a peer support worker. These include empathy and relating to people struggling with mental health problems. You also need strong listening skills. By understanding what they are going through, you can provide better support.

Peer Support Worker Training

When people are considering the process of becoming a peer support worker, there’s often a question about how long it takes. The answer depends on your job title and scope of work.

It sometimes requires several years of full-time study at a college or university to gain the necessary qualifications. This training is very comprehensive and includes topics such as mental health issues, working with people who have problems inter-relating, substance abuse addiction, confidentiality laws, community reintegration, and other essential concepts. There’s also an opportunity to gain additional training and experience through supervised internships.

However, if you are seeking entry-level peer support work, attending a vocational school is another noteworthy option to consider. This will not take you down the path of social work or psychology, but it will allow you to help those struggling with mental health.

What Should I Know Before Becoming a Peer Support Worker?

As you might guess, the role of a peer support worker can be very rewarding. However, it comes with many responsibilities.

It can also be emotionally draining and requires someone committed to helping others work through their circumstances. If you’re thinking about becoming a peer support worker, there are factors that you should know about before making your decision.

This role can be challenging for many reasons.

The peer support worker should be someone who can take criticism, even when things don’t always go to plan. People will sometimes blame the peer support worker for specific issues. This often occurs because they’re unwilling to accept their responsibilities to the issues they face. These support workers utilize communication skills, including other skills such as empathy and compassion, to guide the client.

A peer support worker may be dealing with their mental health concerns. In some instances, the individual might not be aware of any situation because they’ve become used to how they’re feeling. This means that awareness is an essential topic for any peer support worker to learn about.

Many courses will teach people the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders to discern them in themselves or others. In general, it’s always a good idea for anyone considering working as a peer support worker to do some research and find out more about what the role entails.

You should also be aware that this is a serious commitment. You should only consider taking it on if you’re ready to commit to the well-being of others.

How Easy Is It to Find a Job in the Industry?

There’s usually a high demand for these individuals in community services, emergency services, and mental health. There are opportunities to work as part-time peer support workers. This is great for those who may have other responsibilities outside of work that requires their attention, therefore limiting their availability.

It’s also possible for people to choose to work with clients who need assistance when you are available to work. This way, you can arrange your work schedules to meet your personal needs and obligations. You may have options to select a non-traditional work schedule based on the clients’ needs and your limitations. 

How Do I Become a Peer Support Worker?

One of the ways to head down this path is by checking out schools that offer training in this field. At InterCoast Colleges, we provide a program in mental health that includes specific training to become a peer support specialist. After training, you will need to complete state certification requirements.

How Can We Help?

Intercoast offers a comprehensive educational program for those who wish to enter the mental health field. This program includes 720 hours of course time.

This course provides participants with marketable skills needed for a career in the mental health industry. Courses include training in understanding mental health, communications skill building, counseling, and community reintegration, to name a few. This course is available online.

This makes it a reliable option for those who know that this is what they want to do for a career and are not seeking degree options. 

Becoming a Peer Support Worker is Quicker than You Think

It’s no secret that it requires diligence and training. However, the above guide will tell you everything you need to know to help determine if it’s right for you. From here, you can get started on your journey toward becoming a peer support worker.

Want to learn more about what we have to offer? Feel free to contact us today and see how we can help.

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