Peer Specialists

Speaking from Experience

A peer specialist is a person with lived recovery experience who has been trained and certified to help his or her peers gain hope and achieve specific life and recovery goals. Actively engaged in his or her own recovery from mental or substance use disorders, the peer specialist shares real world knowledge and experience to teach others to build a better life. The peer specialist may be a volunteer or may be a paid employee hired to provide peer support services to others. They go by different names in different settings—peer support specialists, recovery support leaders, recovery coaches, but they share a common commitment to assisting their peers from a strength based, solution-focused perspective .

What Peer Specialists Do

  • Acknowledge that everyone’s recovery is unique
  • Serve as role models by sharing their personal recovery stories, showing that recovery is possible
  • Teach goal setting, problem solving and symptom management skills
  • Empower others by helping them identify their strengths, supports, resources and skills
  • Use recovery-oriented tools to help their peers address challenges
  • Assist others to build their own self-directed wellness plans
  • Support peers in their decision making by cultivating others’ abilities to make informed, independent choices
  • Set up and sustain peer self-help and educational groups
  • Offer a sounding board and a shoulder to lean on
  • Advocate by working to eliminate the stigma of behavioral health disorders

Characteristics & Qualifications

It takes a special person to be a peer specialist. They need to be able to plan, schedule, and create backup plans. Peer specialists must be organized, good with time management, strong in their recovery, and a great listener. It’s a unique skill set. They must be able to work with a high level of autonomy plus be able to follow rules and regulations.

Peer specialists must be able to accept their mental health condition and deal with the stigma that society imposes on individuals with disabilities. A particular quality of peer supporters is the ability to advocate for themselves and those they work with to achieve a level of respect and acceptance of themselves as a person who has a mental health condition.

Because of their life experience, peer specialists have expertise that professional training cannot replicate.