Peer-Specialists

What is a Peer Specialist? 

Peer Specialists are health and mental health service consumers who have received peer counseling training, and have demonstrated the skill, motivation, and desire to help their peers in a supportive and/or counseling role. Most have either suffered from mental or physical illness, substance abuse problems, and/or have experienced homelessness. Peer Specialists help Veterans to develop their ability to make informed independent choices, set goals, make decisions, problem solve, and deal with conflicts and the stress of everyday living. Peer Specialists work with mental health clinicians and add a realistic approach to the recovery process for Veterans.

As individuals who have experienced mental and/or physical illness and/or homelessness, Peer Specialists serve as role models and demonstrate that Veterans can improve their health and life when they focus on the recovery process. The lived experiences of a Peer Specialist cannot be replicated with professional training. Being able to speak firsthand about living with a mental/physical illness, co-occurring substance abuse, or homelessness can be the breaking point in a Veterans recovery process.
Carolyn Bissex, Katharine Bobel and Christina Voonasis are former AmeriCorps VISTA members who documented narratives of some of our Peer Specialists.


Why Narratives are important


According to the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry's article, 'Stealing Me from Myself': Identity and Recovery in Personal Accounts of Mental Illness stated, "stories that provide examples of individuals recovering from mental illness, of those who have moved through their illness identities to identify new competencies, and of constructing new, or reclaiming old, selves may provide important guidance and hope for both patients and clinicians."
“I believe that it is important to recognize our Peer Specialists because they have gone through many of the same obstacles and issues that the Veterans who are coming to and using the Errera Community Care Center are facing. A Veteran Peer Specialist can relate to the personal challenges and struggles of living with a mental illness and/or what it is like to have experienced homelessness. Having a Peer Specialist available to other Veterans can provide a sense of comfort, support, and trust that only a fellow Veteran can provide. "
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More About The Peer Specialist Program

The Many Important Roles of Peer Specialists - Click Here

https://sites.google.com/site/erreraccc/peer-specialists/the-roles-of-peer-specialists


Training and Orientation of Peer Specialists - Click Here

https://sites.google.com/site/erreraccc/peer-specialists/training-of-peer-specialists



Other Success Stories


“His dreams had once again been realized”

 

George -  I see a guy who struggles with a physical disability and he tells me me that he looks forward to seeing me. Because of our interaction and the way I assist him with his coping strategies, he is able to put his disability on the back-burner and enjoy the community environment.  He would not otherwise be able to go into the community, enjoy a meal, go shopping, and participate in other day to day activities. I enjoy that I can be involved in someone’s life and help him cope with his disability.

Lewis - I have had veterans come to me and tell me that I was inspirational, because of the way in which I deal with my blindness and always smile.  I don’t feel I smile all the time, but a number of people have told me that if they had to go through what I go through they would not be able to do it.  One person told me that he was able to better manage his anger because he thought of how I keep a smile on my face.
 

What I bring to this job:

Lewis

I was an inquisitive person growing up and my education taught me how to think outside the box, and not take things at face value.  As result, I want to understand what is going on.  If someone is screaming, I want to understand why and not just react or judge. 

I use my blindness as a tool. For example: My condition might help me counsel someone who has anger management issues. I could explain how I worked through my anger and bitterness, which developed because I lost my vision at a young age. The process also helped reduce my PTSD symptoms. 

I let people know we are human and its okay to have a temporary “pity-party” or even a slight meltdown at times, but you cannot stay there. That’s one sure way of failing. At those low times a good support system (e.g., Peer Specialists) is very helpful.

I did not let my blindness hold me back.  I refuse to let my blindness stop me from doing what I want to do.

Personally, I have been blessed and taken care of by the government, but I feel the pain of the others who have not been so fortunate.   Although I was blinded at a young age while performing military duties, I resolved not to get stuck in that mud of life. I had my pity party, but I picked myself up by my bootstraps and decided to move on.  In reality, we only have right now, this very moment.  But, I believe that we need to review the past in order to prepare for the future. You have to know where you’ve been to know where you are going.  It’s OK to look back, but don’t go back.

 

James

First and foremost, I am the client.  I’ve walked the halls they walk.  I treat them with the same dignity and respect that I like to be treated with, and was treated with when I came through the program.  I am a good listener.  I talk from my heart - perhaps too much some times.   When I experience something, every emotion that comes with it is dredged up for the ride.  But, I feel good when I do it.  It cleanses a part of me.

I suffer from my past and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake it.  When I think of some of the things that I’ve done years ago it hurts me.  I’m not that type of person now, but I was that type of person then.  But, I use the pain in a positive way to motivate me and drive me forward.  There are a lot of guys I work with who feel the same way, but because of their self image they don’t let their feelings show.

  

George

Early in recovery a person needs an “atta boy”.  However, as he “scopes” his own recovery he should realize that accolades from others are not as important as they seemed.  It does not matter if you are given respect.  What matters is that you are earning respect.  The only way you can earn respect is by doing the right thing on a daily basis. 

Addiction is a very cunning and baffling thing that makes you think you have it made.  Before you know it, that built-in “forgetter” comes in.  That “forgetter”  helps you forget how close you were to death, how bad it was out there, how close you were to being locked up for the rest of your life, how close you were to a bad deal.  You just don’t know how close you were.  Actually, I do know how close I was because I did hear about people who were killed or locked up.

Recovery is possible. People that come here may not know.  They might have doubts and might have given up.


This website is maintained by Veterans and volunteers.  While the contents of this site have been developed in cooperation with VA personnel, it is not an official site of the Department of Veteran's Affairs


Updated November 2016

This site is maintained by Veterans and volunteers. While the contents of this site have been developed in cooperation with VA personnel, it is not an official site of the Department of Veterans Affairs.


 

Narratives about Peers



Webster Lucky  

I was sitting at the desk next to Webster’s one afternoon during his first week of employment as the new Peer Specialist Apprentice with our Mental Health Intensive Case Management team. I asked him how things were going with his orientation and training at the Errera Center, and when he replied that he had some down time and wanted more to do, I seized the opportunity to ask for his participation in this Peer Specialist recovery narrative project. His enthusiasm became apparent when, the following Monday, he supplied me with a handwritten account of his life and recovery that he had penned over the weekend.

All the narratives on this website, to this point, had been written by myself or my predecessor after an interview. But Webster’s story is special, because he is the author of his own story as it appears here. We sat down to talk about it, and as he read his story aloud, I asked some follow-up questions. Click here to read the original text of Webster’s narrative (in italics) and the questions and answers that came out of our conversation.

I applaud Webster for his courage and initiative, and thank him for his service to our Veterans. 




Lew's Story
Written by Christina Voonasis


Lew Andrews is a Vietnam Veteran and a Peer Specialist in the Community Reintegration Program (CRP) at the Errera Community Care Center. He agreed to share his story of recovery from a disability—blindness—to inspire hope and confidence in other Veterans as they go through their own recovery processes.

Photo by Barry Braman










Cheryl's Story

"The Errera Community Care Center has made me realize that my life could be a lot worse.  There are still a lot of people out there that need to be in recovery and aren't.  One way to help a loved one is to have them recognize the pattern of their behavior and have them see that they are going in a circle, open their eyes so they can see that what they are doing is not good for them.  Identifying a change that needs to be made to break a pattern of behavior is the first step to getting help."

To read Cheryl's narrative Click Here


Photo by Barry Braman





Ernest "EJ" Johnson


Peer Specialist Supportive Employment

"Every day I see people who are going through tough and stressful situations.  It makes me think about if and when some of these things could happen to me.  One thing I recognize through my work is the stuff I may complain about or the issues I am dealing with aren't as bad as what others  might be going through."

To read EJ's narrative, Click Here


Photo by Barry Braman

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Non Peer Staff on  Peer Specialists as Team Members

When it was proposed I thought I would have a hard time with the concept because I was part of the treatment team for most of the new Peer Specialists when they were clients.  I feared that it might be uncomfortable for both of us.  But it was much easier than I thought.  In fact, it’s been a wonderful experience.  I saw that it wasn’t a problem for the others either.

In my work, some veterans have said to me, “you don’t understand it because you’re not a vet.”  They can’t say that to the Peer Specialists.  Not only are they vets, but they’ve also been consumers of the VA Healthcare system.  They’ve been there and done that and can’t be bamboozled.  The Peer Specialists add a realistic approach to things.  They’re honest.

The Peer Specialists have been an inspiration to me in my work with my veterans.  They show me what my vets can do and inspire me to help them do it. 

Our Peer Specialist interfaces with just about every healthcare professional who has treated him and who has treated other veterans.  But this time they’re asking him the questions.  Now it is the Peer Specialists who helps the program by reinforcing its structure and limits.

When the program was announced, I thought it was a great idea.  But it was hard for me to imagine which veterans would be selected as suitable.  I thought that it would work better in some areas than others, but it is working well even where I had doubts.

We had a meeting before the program started.  Some staff had concerns:  “What if they come in late?”  “What if they dress inappropriately?”   They seemed to be concerned that we would have to work to develop them into true professionals.  Others noted that the Peer Specialists had received training, that they’d applied for the job and that they got it because they were qualified.  They were right.  They arrived on the job ready to go to work.

Our Peer Specialist runs Groups like nobody can.  I can’t say how much I’ve learned from him.  He’s helped me to imagine the process through new eyes.  Often when the team is discussing a case and debating approaches, he’ll say, “No.  You just have to say this” and he’s solved our problem.  His strength is his life’s experience and honesty.  

Seeing the success of the Peer Specialists makes me feel stronger in believing why I do what I do.  This is what you hope your clients will become.  

As a team member, the Peer Specialist is not only an equal, but he gives support for everyone on the staff.  We all see his compassion for life.  He’s not just a staff member.  He’s a friend and colleague and has qualities that make him a part of us.

At this point, with the success we’ve seen, I think that we’d all welcome new Peer Specialists.  I like to think that maybe the way we’ve worked with the veterans may have contributed to the way they work with us as Peer Specialists.  They’ve always been a part of the recovery process.n others, but it is working well even where I had doubts.

We had a meeting before the program started.  Some staff had concerns:  “What if they come in late?”  “What if they dress inappropriately?”   They seemed to be concerned that we would have to work to develop them into true professionals.  Others noted that the Peer Specialists had received training, that they’d applied for the job and that they got it because they were qualified.  They were right.  They arrived on the job ready to go to work.

Our Peer Specialist runs Groups like nobody can.  I can’t say how much I’ve learned from him.  He’s helped me to imagine the process through new eyes.  Often when the team is discussing a case and debating approaches, he’ll say, “No.  You just have to say this” and he’s solved our problem.  His strength is his life’s experience and honesty. 

Seeing the success of the Peer Specialists makes me feel stronger in believing why I do what I do.  This is what you hope your clients will become. 

As a team member, the Peer Specialist is not only an equal, but he gives support for everyone on the staff.  We all see his compassion for life.  He’s not just a staff member.  He’s a friend and colleague and has qualities that make him a part of us.

At this point, with the success we’ve seen, I think that we’d all welcome new Peer Specialists.  I like to think that maybe the way we’ve worked with the veterans may have contributed to the way they work with us as Peer Specialists.  They’ve always been a part of the recovery process.