There is great power in learning from someone who has “been there before.” People with similar lived experience may be able to listen and provide hope and guidance in a way that is uniquely received.
So-called “mental health peer support” has existed for decades. Since the 1990s, the concept of “consumers as providers” has become a larger component in mental health service settings.
Perhaps there is no more powerful example of the power of peer support than when a recovering compulsive gambler shares their story with someone still in the throes of addiction. Indeed, programs such as Gamblers Anonymous are built largely on the idea that others with similar challenges can lead the way to recovery.
Peer support specialists are people who have been successful in the recovery process and can help others experiencing similar situations. Peer support specialists have a proven place as a key component of integrated care for recovery.
What is a Peer Support Specialist?
Although the faces of addiction are many, all persons on the road to recovery need the support of othersA peer support specialist is someone with lived experience who is able to share that perspective with another person who has not yet achieved recovery from addiction. They provide a link between clinical services and “outside” supports and can help someone navigate the behavioral health system and find appropriate community resources. A peer provides an example of empowerment and success and can be a trusted role model. It’s often easier for a person seeking to begin recovery to talk with a peer support specialist than it is to talk to a counselor or attend a Gamblers Anonymous meeting. Peer support specialists can also foster trust in a healthcare system that has often disenfranchised many of those whom it serves.
The value of lived experience is helpful throughout the time a peer support specialist spends with a client but can be particularly helpful when the gambler is vulnerable to relapsing. Some peers are available 24/7 so that a gambler in distress can reach them at any time.
Benefits of Gambling Peer Recovery Support
Recovery from any addiction is a long process. Most people need support at various points throughout the difficult journey. While everyone’s struggle to achieve recovery is different, what each person has in common is the need to receive support in one form or another. Although the faces of addiction are many, all persons on the road to recovery need the support of others, who need to be familiar with what it means to be an addict.
There are four key elements to the support provided by the peer support specialists:
- Emotional support. The peer support specialist provides emotional support by encouraging the individual through empathy, concern or caring, and helping to strengthen confidence and self-esteem.
- Information source. The peer support specialist shares their knowledge about resources available to guide individuals to success, including access to treatment, which is often available at no cost.
- At a practical level, a peer support specialist can help people complete tasks necessary for successful recovery, such as helping with transportation and housing.
- A peer support specialist helps individuals gain a sense of belonging and being with others.
Peer support specialists may get involved in a range of activities, including:
- Being a voice in individual, family, and group counseling.
- Providing support to family members of problem gamblers.
- Helping someone through financial counseling.
- Being available by phone (including after hours).
- Giving presentations, teaching, and providing training.
- Being the voice of recovery providing input into program planning.
- Serving as a connection to the “recovery community.”
- Providing support in negotiations with the criminal justice system.
Many who work in recovery are in recovery themselves
Many people believe that individuals without shared experience cannot help those with addictions or fully understand what they’ve gone through. Studies provide considerable support for this contention. A review of existing studies found that the percentage of substance use disorder treatment providers who were in recovery was 33-50 percent. Those in recovery who are involved in client care have an ability to introduce their clients and patients to 12-step and other self-help supports in ways that those not in recovery are unable to do.
Peer support specialists that work within a treatment delivery system can provide an important benefit to providers. They can offer assistance with resources for those identified with a gambling problem and/or their family members.
While specifics vary by state, there is a formal process for becoming certified as a peer support specialist. In Minnesota, peer specialists must have 30 hours of continuing education every two years in areas of mental health recovery, mental health rehabilitative services and peer support.
The Need for Gambling Peer Support Specialists in Minnesota
Unfortunately, peer support specialists are not currently approved as part of gambling treatment programs in Minnesota. However, a number of other states, including Maryland and Connecticut, recognize them as vital parts of treatment and recovery. In each of these state programs, gambling peer support specialists engage with an individual as soon as they call the state gambling helpline. While not everyone seeking help may be ready to sit down with a counselor, they may be receptive to having a conversation, or a series of conversations, with a trained peer before seeking formal counseling. In fact, each of these states have seen an increase in those seeking treatment since the inclusion of the peer support specialist, crediting the importance of those early conversations.
In Connecticut and Maryland, the gambling peer support specialist is an integral component to an individual’s recovery treatment plan, working in conjunction with the counselor as added support. Peer support specialists are also available post-treatment, maintaining connections as the person in their early recovery begins to negotiate their new way of being.
The Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling is working with the Minnesota Department of Human Services to bring peer support professionals into the treatment mix given their clear value in helping those with gambling addiction in their recovery journeys.
This article includes information presented by Stephen Matos, recovery support specialist with the Midwestern Connecticut Council on Alcoholism, at the Minnesota Conference on Problem Gambling in November 2021. The presentation can be viewed here.
March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. We encourage anyone who may think they have an issue with gambling or knows someone who does, to visit the Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling website, mnapg.org. You will find a rich source of information and community resources. If you are interested in receiving a referral for a certified problem gambling counselor, please call 1-800-333-4673 (HOPE). Treatment is typically at no cost. It’s available to families too. Telehealth sessions remain available at least through June 2022.
Last Updated on March 9, 2022