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Peer Support Providers

Peer support is the process of offering assistance to achieve long-term recovery.

Peer support providers are people with a personal experience of recovery from mental health, substance use, or trauma conditions who receive specialized training and supervision to guide and support others who are experiencing similar mental health, substance use or trauma issues toward increased wellness. Peer support providers offer emotional support, share knowledge, provide practical assistance, and connect people with resources, opportunities, communities, and other people. Peer support providers offer a special source of support to help inspire hope and sustain long term recovery.

Supporting from Experience: Q&A with Keith Murphy

Keith Murphy, LPC, LCADC, is a Senior Substance Abuse Counselor at Rutgers University’s Recovery House. In this role, he provides counseling for college students living with mental health and substance use challenges as they work towards their degree. Keith shared his wealth of experience, and his insights on the value of collegiate recovery programs as crucial early intervention in the journey that is recovery. Keith is also a member of the Community Advisory Board for the WinR Addiction Advocacy Research Student Internship/Faculty Fellowship Program, offering valuable guidance, expertise, and support to our WinR interns and fellows. The interview was conducted by Tanya Lalwani, a scholar in the WinR Addiction Advocacy Research Student Internship/Faculty Fellowship Program.

Q. To start, please tell us about Recovery House and describe your roles there.

A. The Rutgers University Recovery House [http://health.rutgers.edu/medical-counseling-services/counseling/adap/recovery-housing/], which started in 1988 as one of the first collegiate recovery residences in the country, supports Rutgers students in recovery from severe substance use disorder. We look to have students who are at least 90 days into abstinence-based recovery for admission. Students may also take medications to help assist them in their recovery if that is their pathway; however, we expect students to not engage in substances outside of a doctor’s care while at Recovery House. This is crucial aspect of the effectiveness of the model in providing a safe, sober space for students who may otherwise be hard-pressed to find such a space in a college environment.

There are many nuances to my role as a Senior Substance Abuse Counselor at Recovery House. I can be a coach, or a counselor, a mediator, etc., but my job primarily is to support students in their recovery and mental health journey while they work towards their degree. This often involves being a bridge between parents, students, teachers, as well as the broader administration. While the role requires juggling a lot of hats in a multidisciplinary space, my overarching role is to be positive role model and influence in the lives of these students in recovery.

Q. What inspired you to pursue this type of work?

A. As a person in recovery, I get great joy out of seeing people flourish in life as a result of resolving or working to resolve their addiction related issues. I give great credit to students, especially marginalized students that were here during the pandemic, who worked hard to explore their truths and change the dynamic around issues related to race and gender identity.

More than that, I didn’t know help was available as an undergraduate student when I was struggling to make good choices around my own cannabis and substance use—so it’s real honor to be able to come back to Rutgers, and work in and create systems for students who feel unseen and unheard.

Q. What are the unique strengths of a CRP (Collegiate Recovery Program) especially from a social and restorative justice perspective?

A. Great question. The strengths of the CRP are as follows:

  • Community and connectedness with other folks in recovery
  • Longevity of the program
  • Clinical support by highly trained staff
  • Material, financial, and housing support
  • Administrative backing/support
  • National and regional recognition
  • Committed students
  • Early intervention resulting in improved outcomes
  • Protective factor of getting a college education

Q. Recovery House is located on a college campus. What are the unique challenges of working within a larger educational institution?

A. Another great question. Amongst some of the challenges I’ve witnessed, stigma surrounding young people in recovery is probably the greatest. This is deep-rooted within the institution, with the administration often pathologizing students in recovery or looking at recovery as simply the cessation of substance use. Stigma is also perpetuated by other students, and those in recovery often have legitimate concerns about being “outed” and/or feeling different. Another major ongoing challenge can be the larger bureaucracy of needing to promote the program, generate financial support, and constantly face the question of does the cost outweigh the benefit? Finally, given the nature of a college environment, there is a significant lack of broader community activities that support sober students.

Q. How does your lived experience influence your work supporting others, particularly students?

A. To be honest, sometimes having lived experience is great and other times it’s a barrier. It can be great because I have firsthand knowledge of what it was like navigating recovery in an inhospitable system. At the same time, my experience is not their experience, yet I can fall into the trap of thinking I know all about them. Also, there is an age difference and my life experience in addiction and in recovery may not always be relatable, but it reminds to me to work harder to understand their experience and forge meaningful connections.

Q. As a member of the WinR CAB, what would you like to see happen as a result of the WinR Addiction Advocacy Research Student Internship/Faculty Fellowship Program?

A. I’m going to keep this part simple. I would like to see the research generated from WinR Addiction Advocacy Research Internship/Fellowship Program translate into usable data, dollars, and support for the most vulnerable and marginalized in society. I believe it is the position of the academy to work to functionally and immediately improve the lives of people. Often research doesn’t make it out of someone’s desk drawer and in front of the folx who have the most power and authority to make informed changes. Sadly, so much of our lives is wrapped in culture wars and is blind to what and who really matters.

We thank Keith for sharing his incredible journey of experience with us and being an invaluable member of the WinR CAB and the larger community!

Disclaimer: The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies.

Q&A with Corey Kuebler (they/them)

Corey Kuebler is a genderqueer/non-binary, trans femme person in long-term recovery, social worker, and artist. Their lived experiences bring an important perspective to their work as a Habilitation Counselor and Case Manager. Corey also brings a unique point of view as a member of the Community Advisory Board for the Wellness in Recovery Addiction Advocacy Research Fellowship Program (WinR) where they provide guidance and expertise to the program’s team. Stuart Luther sat down with Corey for a quick Q+A to learn more about their work in mental health, how their lived experience facilitates that work, and their take on wellness and self-care.

Q. Corey, thank you for taking the time to sit down and share your experiences with us today. Can you start by telling us a little about your work with the Intensive Recovery Treatment Support (IRTS) program?

A. I have the honor of assisting participants reenter their communities after leaving New Jersey state prisons with an opioid use disorder. The work I do varies widely. I assist with finding participants treatment such as detox, or medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD). I work with participants to find mental health support. Participants will call with requests for linkage to shelters for housing or food pantries/soup kitchens for sustenance. My conversations with participants are also about their successes – reconnecting with their children or finding employment, for example – and the sense of well-being that comes from their commitment to their self-defined recovery goals. I am very fortunate that I work closely alongside Peer Health Navigators, Registered Nurses, and a Program Coordinator to deliver the highest quality services we can. Our teamwork makes anything possible and saves me infinite amounts of stress.

Q. You’re clearly doing a lot of important work and have been for some time now. What inspired you to pursue these roles in the mental health field?

A. This work snuck up on me through a job at a for-profit substance use treatment provider in New Brunswick. I started working there part-time in 2015, and then full-time in 2016 after finishing my undergraduate degree in English. The more time I spent with the people we were serving, the more I listened to their stories, and the more we laughed, I knew I had found a place where I could be of service. Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC) was my next employer where I started as a Peer Health Navigator for IRTS. My perception of what social work could be and its impacts has expanded astronomically as I watched UBHC secure grants for the county-based Support Team for Addiction Recovery (STAR) program and more, with peer services as the guiding force.

Q. You’ve shared that you are an individual in long-term recovery. How do you feel that your lived experiences have influenced your work supporting other? What strengths does your lived experience bring to your work?

A. My lived experiences’ biggest impact on my work is a compassion for participants who have acute challenges in their recovery. I have made (and sometimes still do make!) countless decisions that were (and are!) against my best interest. The privileges of my socioeconomic background, my whiteness, and my parents’ education level were among the protective factors that buoyed me. When I see a participant challenged by similar decisions and difficulties — which are consistently of much higher magnitude than any of what I went through — or living in ways that ambivalently express how they want to change, I can feel a ‘me too.’ That identification, whether or not I share it aloud, helps me avoid judgment or oversimplifying the complexity of the recovery process. I still remember the multi-year stretch of my own suicidal ideations and substance use, and how confusing that time period was for the people who cared about me. I am fortunate that IRTS truly values harm reduction and a person-centered approach – we are always able to be supportive in our professional roles, regardless of a participant’s current challenges. These principles help us as providers become protective factors for the people we serve.

Q. Thank you for sharing that, Corey. You’ve made a great case for peer support and individuals with lived experience in the mental health field. What advice would you offer to someone with a lived experience looking to enter the Mental Health field?

A. I don’t really give advice, per se, but I highly recommend an intentional self-care regimen built on peace and joy. Speaking for myself, some of what I see and listen to in this work can activate strong feelings of worry, sadness, identification, and feelings of “I have to save the world!” I hypothesize that I may be more susceptible to these feelings because of my lived experience. So, when (yes – when!) compassion fatigue finds me, I am vulnerable to such feelings overwhelming me and exhausting my ability to serve. I forget that I can take a day off because I fortunately have a fantastic team of support. I forget that this work isn’t about me “saving the world,” or, on days more shallow but no less selfish, getting compliments on my annual employee review. The Self-Care regimen that helps me stay energized and humbled is always changing: it’s been hiking; PTSD treatment; Twelve Step meetings; skateboarding; painting; learning recipes from my heritage to further deconstruct my whiteness; writing; reading; and so much more on any given day, hour, or minute.

Q. You make a great point – it’s important that care providers attend to their own wellness to be in the best position to support others. It’s wonderful to see all the different ways you practice self-care. What about the greater mental health community? As an individual with a lived experience working in mental health what would you want other providers to know?

A. Person-centered approaches and harm reduction principles to both program development and behavioral services are evidence-based. Please listen to us. Please believe us.

Q. Corey, what you’ve shared really speaks to your passion and conviction for the direct services you provide, but you also serve in many other capacities including on the Community Advisory Board (CAB) for the WinR program.  How would you describe your role on the CAB and how do you think your lived experiences have shaped how you approach the role?

A. I hope I am bringing new perspectives, resources, research ideas, and humor to the WinR CAB meetings. I also hope I am consistently putting voice to person-centered and participatory research principles. My lived experience is an access point to humility; my experience is best explained by me. The same applies to the communities and people we’re partnering with to revolutionize what research can be. The people we work alongside are the experts on themselves and their infinitely nuanced worlds, and we as researchers and service professionals are obligated to listen to their needs, and how they want those needs met. I firmly believe that this approach to healing and social change, when applied consistently over time and led by marginalized groups, will dismantle the white supremacist, heteronormative power structures that have resulted in centuries of violence, oppression, and colonialism.

Q. Your perspectives, ideas, and humor are sure to help shape the future of the program. But, let’s talk about your future. You’re currently pursuing your MSW and MPH in a dual-degree program – can you share some of your plans with us?

A. My dream future is partnering with participants to develop a community-based program centered on the mental health and substance use needs of gender diverse groups (LGBTQ2S+), particularly for BIPOC folx and folx that have experienced incarceration. But is that what participants would want to build? I still have to ask! I am enamored when I think of delivering clinical services and conducting research within that type of participatory reality. Before then, I will follow the guidance of my mentors within UBHC, Rutgers’ School of Public Health, and Rutgers’ School of Social Work to hone my clinical and research skills. I am very grateful for the supportive management at Rutgers UBHC as I pursue these goals. I would be clueless without my mentors and their generosity with their time and energy.

Q. It’s been such a joy learning more from and about you. Thank you for sharing, Corey. As we wrap up, is there anything I haven’t asked about that you’d like to share?

A. As my definitions of Self-Care evolve, I would like to elaborate on two ideas that have brought me much more peace and calm and elevated my ability to engage in anti-oppression work. I also want to be clear that my friends and mentors have instilled these ideas in me with admirable patience – I did not invent them. The first is deconstructing my whiteness through more deeply exploring my family history and cultural heritage. I am intentionally engaging with Lebanese and Italian film, learning Levantine Arabic and Italian, and eating the recipes of my ancestors to look beyond that flatness of whiteness which leads to cultural erasure; disidentification with marginalized groups and their history; and further oppression.

The second is re-indigenizing my day-to-day experience. If you’re like me, you noticed how hard it is to find art that centers Indigenous creators and Indigenous experience. I assembled the below list to counteract that void I encountered – please note that the content warnings (c/w) are reflections of mental health and other challenges, such as violence, that Indigenous people experience at disproportionately high rates. Each example centers, stars, and/or was made by Indigenous folx.

  • Empire of Dirt (2013) – Movie on Tubi (free with ads!) – A mother and daughter story weaves through intergenerational legacies.
  • Mekko (2015) – Movie on Tubi (free with ads!) – Story of a man’s return from incarceration and his reckoning with the tragic event that led him there in the first place.
  • Fire Song (2015) – c/w for suicide and sexual violence – Movie on Tubi (free with ads!) – A teenager experiences family challenges that include his sister’s suicide, as well as his issues around finances, higher education, and his sexuality.
  • Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature (2011) – Poems, fiction, and essays that center queerness in the Indigenous experience.
  • Reservation Dogs – c/w for suicide – Show on Hulu – So much humor and depth among these four friends that scheme to leave their Oklahoma reservation.

Disclaimer: The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies.

Leading from Experience: Q&A with Robin Shorter

Robin is currently the Senior Director of Community Engagement at Integrity House, helping with people with addictions treatment, mental health treatment, and recovery support throughout Essex County, NJ. She recently transitioned to this role in 2019, after working for 13 years at Integrity House and working as a peer support provider. Robin connected with us about this experience, and the value of peer support services.

Q. Robin, you currently work in the community, building relationships with individuals and organizations to make sure people experiencing behavioral health conditions get the support they need. Before taking on this responsibility, you were working in the field and offering direct services as a counselor. Can you share with us what inspired you to become a peer support provider?

A. I became a peer support provider because I have a passion for helping people. I am LCADC (Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor). HOWEVER, when an individual is struggling with a substance use disorder, they do not always need a clinician. They need an individual who has walked in their shoes. Someone extended a hand to me 20 years ago, and I can do the same for others as a peer provider, helping instill hope in people’s lives.

Q. You point out that people sometimes need someone who has walked in their shoes. Can you talk more about this? How would you say your lived experiences contribute the support you offer others?

A. My lived experiences with addiction led me to some very dark places in my life! I spent 20 years in active addiction. There is something about escaping from hell that compels me each day to show others the way out. I have been clean for 18 years and sometimes it seems like yesterday! The desperation I see in the eyes of others with similar struggles contributes to my motivation to help and support others.

Q. You mentioned that you can instill hope in people’s lives as a peer support provider. Inspiring hope is a key component of peer support. What does this mean to you?

A. Inspiring hope to me simply means extending a gentle hand, being a role model, and providing living proof to others that recovery is within reach. Peer support helps eliminate barriers to treatment and minimize stigma around substance use and behavioral health conditions. This helps bring hope into people’s lives.

Q. Hope is certainly a component of being a peer supporter, and something you value in your work. What do you think are some of the other key components of this work?

A. Treating others with respect and dignity…no matter what, whether someone is actively using, has poor hygiene, or is experiencing homelessness (or is an RWA, which is language I use – Resident Without Address). In my experience, other key components of peer support include engaging in advocacy; creating a pathway to eliminate barriers; offering support, encouragement, empowerment; and identifying personal strengths (Recovery Capital) and building on them. Of course, a key component of peer support is LOVE.

Q. Thank you so much, Robin. These are powerful contributions that peer support providers offer to individuals and communities being served. Peer support providers are an essential part of the recovery process for service users. If someone was thinking about becoming a peer support provider, what would you say to them? Do you have any words of advice?

A. Absolutely. I would share three key points:

  • You can only keep what you have by giving it away to others.
  • Service to others is the rent you pay for being here on this earth.
  • The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

Q. What you’ve shared so far really speaks to the joys you experience doing this work, as well as the benefits of peer support and being of service to others. While providing peer support is fulfilling, it also can be stressful. How do you take care of your own self-care and wellness in this role?

A. Personally, I exercise daily, take care of lots of plants, listen to music, and read books. I attend 12-step meetings, travel, and spend time with positive people and family And, I make it a point to laugh a lot.

Q. You’re covering most of the Eight Dimensions of Wellness with your self-care routines! Thank you for sharing that, Robin. Before we close, is there anything else that’s important to share about peer support that I haven’t asked about?

A. There’s something about seeing a person filled with desperation one minute and hope in the next moment. Peer support providers have the chance to see that transformation in people, and help bring about that transformation. Thank you for asking, and thank you for this opportunity.

Robin Shorter is the Senior Director of Community Engagement at Integrity House. Integrity House is committed to helping individuals and families through an effective and measurable system of comprehensive Therapeutic Community addictions treatment, mental health treatment, and recovery support in a way that brings about positive, long-term, lifestyle change. https://integrityhouse.org/

Disclaimer: The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies.

September is Recovery Month!

National Recovery Month logo 2021

Now in its 32nd year, Recovery Month celebrates the gains made by those in recovery, just as we celebrate improvements made by those who are managing other health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease.

Each September, Recovery Month works to promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, the emergence of a strong and proud recovery community, and the dedication of service providers and community members across the nation who make recovery in all its forms possible.

Check out our Wellness Tip of the Month!

Measuring Outcomes of Peer Recovery Support Services

To guide the expansion of peer recovery support services, and to ensure these services are effective, The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services produced a targeted review of the peer recovery services literature was conducted to provide:

• An overview of recovery and peer support within the field of behavioral health services;

• A current definition of peers and a description of the recovery support services they provide;

• A focused repository of salient substance use and mental health recovery outcomes associated with peer recovery support services;

• Suggestions for selecting measures/assessments of peer recovery support services-related outcomes;

•Recommendations to guide peer recovery service provision, evaluation, and outcomes measurement.

Perceptions of Supervisors of Peer Support Workers in Behavioral Health

A recent article describes content analysis of open-ended survey responses compares and contrasts perceptions on supervision from supervisors with experience providing direct peer support services (PS) and supervisors without experience providing direct peer support services (NPS). A 16-item online survey was distributed via the National Association of Peer Supporters (N.A.P.S.) listserv and through peer networks and peer run organizations. Responses from 837 respondents, across 46 US states, were analyzed. Four open ended questions assessed supervisors’ perceptions on differences supervising peer support workers (PSW) as compared to other staff, important qualities of PSW supervisors, roles when supervising a PSW, and concerns about PSWs in the organization. Among NPS and PS, three major differences in themes emerged: the knowledge required of supervisors, understanding of the role of the PSW, and supervisors’ beliefs regarding PSW competencies. PS have a more nuanced understanding of the peer support worker role and the impact of lived experience in the role.

Foglesong, D., Spagnolo, A. B., Cronise, R. et al. (2021, June). Perceptions of Supervisors of Peer Support Workers (PSW) in Behavioral Health: Results from a National Survey. Community Mental Health Journal. doi: 10.1007/s10597-021-00837-2