Peer support is rooted in the shared experience of mental illness, substance use disorder, and recovery. This mutuality—sometimes called peerness—is at the root of the unique connection between peer support specialists and the people they serve. Peer support specialists skillfully leverage their lived experience to inspire hope that recovery is possible and empower, support, and educate others on their recovery journeys. They are uniquely positioned to engage people who are disconnected, walk beside them, help them understand and explore options, connect them with community resources, and problem-solve challenges.
Peer support services are always voluntary and strengths-focused. Peer support values include being person-centered, open-minded, respectful, and transparent. Peer support specialists aim to share power equally while helping others facilitate change.
Peer support specialists work in a range of settings that may include behavioral health agencies, recovery community centers, drug courts, peer respite programs, warm lines, hospital emergency departments, or mobile crisis response units. They may work one-on-one, as part of a team, or by facilitating support groups.
Peer support specialists may serve people at particular life stages, such as youth and young adults, older adults, veterans, pregnant and parenting people, or family members of people experiencing mental illness or substance use disorder. In addition, peer support specialists lead peer-run, recovery community, and family-run organizations that offer a range of recovery support services. They are an integral part of the behavioral health service continuum.
Learn more about peer support specialists:
- National Practice Guidelines for Peer Specialists and Supervisors
- Peer Support Infographic (English); Apoyo entre compañeros (Spanish)
- Peer Support Toolkit
Peer Support in California
Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill No. 803 into law on September 25, 2020, establishing a certification program for peer support specialists. The law defines and standardizes the peer support specialist role, paving the way to expand peer support. The law describes peer support specialist services as culturally competent, strengths-based techniques to promote recovery, engagement, self-sufficiency, self-advocacy, and the development of supports.
To become a peer support specialist in California, a person must be over the age of 18 and in recovery from a mental illness, substance use disorder, or both, or a family member of someone in recovery; agree to a code of ethics; successfully complete an approved training; and pass an examination. For peer support specialists to remain certified, they must sign a code of ethics biennially and complete training and recertification requirements.
Learn more about peer certification:
- Certification requirements and program standardsPeer Support Specialists – Frequently Asked Questions
Benefits of Peer Support
Peer support is highly effective at engaging people who may be disconnected or systematically marginalized. Other benefits include:
- Increased self-esteem, confidence, sense of control, sense of empowerment, sense that treatment is responsive to needs, sense of hope, empathy, self-care and wellness, and social support and functioning
- Decreased symptoms, hospital admission rates, substance use, and depression
- Reduced inpatient service use
- Improved relationships with providers
- Increased use of primary care (instead of emergency services)
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