People often ask me what I do for a career. I laugh, and my response is, “Do you want the long or short version?” As a trained communications professional, I am aware of having my elevator speech ready, but for the sake of this article, I will break it down. In short, I am an entrepreneur --- this encompasses my roles as a podcaster, author, speaker, communications professional, and peer recovery specialist. How is that possible? Well, the common thread in all my roles is that they are in the mental health and wellness space.
I have several years of experience in the entertainment industry, and my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in communications, media, and public relations. My lived experience with bipolar and generalized anxiety disorders, coupled with my professional experience, led me to birth Fireflies Unite. Fireflies Unite is the first and only mental health media and communications company. Its mission is to bring light into darkness (just like the fireflies) by sharing the stories of people of color who live and thrive with mental health conditions through digital, social, print and broadcast media, events, training, and community partnerships. But one role people are not entirely familiar with is my role as a peer recovery specialist.
What is a peer recovery specialist?
Peer recovery specialists are on the rise in the United States. They are non-clinical roles in the mental, behavioral, and addiction fields. Individuals use their lived experience to assist others in their recovery by providing direct peer-to-peer support services through one-on-one coaching and peer support groups. Some states and organizations refer to them as peer counselors, recovery coaches, or consumer advocates. Still, the concept is the same --- they have lived experience with mental, substance use, or co-occurring disorders.
As a peer recovery specialist for a research project, I provide employment coaching and mentoring to peers in recovery. I advocate for them to employers about the benefits of hiring those with mental health and substance use disorders. I also assist peers with enrolling in college or certification programs to further advance their careers.
I am pursuing my certification through the Maryland Addiction and Behavioral Health Certification Board and trained in the knowledge and skills in advocacy, ethical responsibility, recovery, wellness, and mentoring and education. I have been to peer conferences and certified in adult and youth mental health first aid, WRAP, and applied suicide intervention skills. As you can see, I’ve taken intensive training to gain a better understanding of mental health and substance use disorders to ensure that I have a diverse set of skills to assist individuals.
How does peer recovery specialists support mental and substance use disorders?
Peer support is an evidence-based practice treatment. Did you know that peer support lowers the overall cost of mental health services by reducing re-hospitalization rates and days spent in inpatient services, increasing the use of outpatient services? Peer support improves the quality of life, increases patient engagement, self-care, and health, according to the evidence for peer support by Mental Health America.
I asked peers in Maryland and asked, “How has being a peer helped your recovery?” and “If you’ve received peer support services, how has it helped you?”
“Being a peer has helped me in knowing that I’m not alone because I meet others with mental illness. I always have someone to talk to and have the support needed when there’s no other place to turn. On Our Own (OOO) is the best place I’ve ever been to in helping my recovery with my depression. Daphne is one of the best people I have ever met. Thank You, OOO, for being there for me!” — S.M.
“Peers saved my life, and I work now to end the stigma of suicide and mental health diagnoses. Bipolar is just a trauma experience.” — C.T.
“Being a peer recovery specialist helped me built confidence and courage to face the challenges that come with recovery and the stigma we face daily by society. It feels so good to receive peer support. I feel heard and respected. I asked peers what time would be a good time to talk; they made time for our conversation. I felt connected.” — D. B.
OOO is a place where we can go for support from other people, and Daphne is one of the best people I’ve known. When I started coming to OOO, I didn’t quite understand my disability as much as I do now. I was judged all the time for my reading and mental disabilities; I was made fun of and put down. There were times I didn’t want to be alive anymore, but I had so much support. I am much happier with my life, and everyone makes me feel wanted with the peer support I’ve received. It is something that people need in their lives — not only emotionally but the friends that we make there help us get through every day. — S.R.
How do I become a peer recovery specialist?
If you have experience with a mental health, substance use or co-occurring conditions, you may find a career as a peer recovery specialist beneficial to your recovery. There are plenty of jobs in the field even though the name of the role may vary. Some employers require you to have your certification, others do not, and some employers will hire you and give you a specific time to obtain your certification. Many states have a certification program --- the cost, duration, and training may differ from state to state. Click below for certification programs.
In other states, check with one of the following:
Office of Consumer Affairs
Department of Behavioral Health
Department of Human Services
Office of Recovery Services
Department of Mental Health & Hygiene