Esteemed recovery historian, scholar and advocate William White notes that the concept and principles of peer recovery support has deep roots extending back to the original mutual self-help group Alcoholics Anonymous and spanning forward from that time to be a fundamental aspect of the substance use recovery movement.
In 2019 Peer Recovery Support Services (PRSS) have become a recognized and integrated part of addiction treatment in many areas of the country. However, despite the extensive education and advocacy efforts of Recovery Community Organizations (RCO) such as the Minnesota Recovery Connection, Peer Support Services have only become formally recognized in the past year as a validated reimbursable treatment service by the state of Minnesota.
This article provides a unique overview from dual perspectives through the eyes of both a clinical professional and a newly trained peer on their experience working together to integrate PRSS into a community-based co-occurring treatment program.
Ken Roberts is the Chief Clinical Officer for NUWAY, a non-profit substance use disorder treatment provider with deep community roots and over fifty years’ experience providing community-based care. Melissa Evers is a person in long term recovery and a trained Peer Recovery Support Specialist (PRSS). A NUWAY alumni, Melissa was hired as the first full time PRSS at NUWAY.
Melissa begins by describing peer support and defining the scope and benefits of these services:
“Peer recovery support services are community-based services that encompass the domains of advocacy, mentorship, education and system navigation. PRS supports multiple pathways to recovery and encourages the recoverees to take the wheel and explore what works for them. By using a strength-based approach, the recoveree defines and creates their new path to recovery with their peer coach/specialist/mentor. Peers also incorporate their personal lived experience, when relevant and helpful for the recoverees to understand or relate to. Peers are professionally trained in motivational interviewing, the stages of recovery, cultural competency, recovery capital, ethics and boundaries, and more. They then go on to become certified through the MCB to be a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist, with opportunity to advance with an upgraded credential as a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist Reciprocal.
Peers are not only great for the recoveree but also a great addition to any substance use organization. They provide support to recoverees, and clinical staff, by using their community resources and navigation skills to link people to appropriate community organizations and events. They can provide daily one-on-one support to those who may need a little more time. They can mobilize into the community as well, to support the recoveree on their personal navigation of their community. Peers, no matter the location can be invaluable to the person seeking recovery.
There are different avenues for Peers to obtain employment, some work in Recovery Community Organizations like Minnesota Recovery Connection to provide Mobile Substance Use Disorder Support (SUDS Team). This team is very active in Emergency rooms, and Detox facilities. Peers work for organizations that support employees who are experiencing challenges with substance use disorder, such as Recovree, who provides tech enabled peer recovery services through various employee assistance programs. Currently outpatient treatment programs such as NUWAY are implementing Peer Recovery Services for the continued success of their clients.
With that picture in mind, Ken shares his experience of agency integration for peer support at NUWAY:
“The most critical step was realizing that being knowledgeable about providing treatment did not necessarily translate to being knowledgeable about providing peer support. In fact, we learned that this is one of the most common mistakes made when these disciplines first begin to overlap in a formal manner. Thankfully, we at least had the awareness to recognize this fact and bring in an expert in peer training, culture and implementation. We contracted with the Minnesota Recovery Connection for Kris Kelly to do an in-depth evaluation of our agency to create a defined plan for implementing PRSS. This process included meetings with executive leadership, focus groups with staff and clients, analysis of key service gaps and a comprehensive training for all staff members about how peers would and would not work in our treatment settings. These exercises revealed interesting information that I would not have predicted such as fears by our clinicians that peers might be a threat to their job. The learning we gained was invaluable in helping create a plan that addressed these types of concerns and supported Melissa to onboard and really integrate with our team. Kris Kelly was, and continues to be a mentor and support to Melissa in her professional development.
I’m grateful that we were mindful and strategic in our process- the results have born that out. I’m also grateful for the reminders this experience provided about the value of peer support in my own recovery. I am also a person in long term recovery. Treatment was the first step in my journey, but it was the peer support in support groups and recovery housing that helped me most over the long run. I wanted to be a champion for that type of support in our agency. Through Melissa’s work in our outpatient programs we have been more successful in consistently connecting clients with community-based resources and helping new clients maintain better treatment engagement and retention. We have expanded her role to work at a second site and are planning to add PRSS agency wide in 2020.”
Melissa concludes this reflection with her vision of the hope and encouragement that peer support provides:
“Peers are intentional in connecting the recoverees to resources within the community, they help recoverees learn to cope with everyday life. They are mentors, cheerleaders, navigators, truth-tellers, educators, and provide unwavering support to those they serve. Peers work with the ‘help you, help you’ philosophy in which they become a person to walk besides, and to grow with. Peers celebrate success, model a healthy lifestyle, and show empathy and compassion for all those they serve.”
Peers help to reignite hope for those who report to have none, they work to empower the recoveree to make their own decisions and find their own path. Another key factor in peer recovery is empowering the recoveree to build their strengths. Working together within an outpatient treatment setting, the recoveree receives a wide gamut of supportive services, which provide choice and freedom to live the life they want to live! Recovery can be very challenging; peers are living proof that recovery does work. They live their work every day, which provides hope for those who are still struggling with substance use disorder. They help people to see that mountains, do turn into mole hills by taking manageable steps, together, hope is restored.”
Melissa Evers, CPRSR, is a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist Reciprocal at NUWAY Counseling Center in St. Paul.
Kenneth Roberts, is the Chief Clinical Officer at NUWAY.