Peer support is a type of encouragement, advice, and emotional help provided by someone who has experienced the problems you are currently experiencing. They have “been there, done that” and can provide a unique perspective from someone who understands what you’re going through.

The primary advantage of peer support is the deep relationships that are formed. The shared experiences serve as a common foundation on which the support relationship is formed. Many times peer supports turn into deep friendships.

How is Peer Support different from counseling or therapy?

Peer support can come from anyone who has a common experience. Peer supports could be a professional relationship, but it could also come from a member of a therapy group, a friend met via online support forums, or even an already-established friend or family member. In this way, a peer support may or may not have professional training; the important part is the honest and real shared experiences.

Peer support is about conversation, dialog, and mutual understanding. There is comfort in knowing that someone else has been through the struggles you are experiencing. It focuses on the art of connecting with others, both in our joys and in our pains.

Peer support focuses primarily on assistance in daily management, social and emotional support, bridging the gap between individuals and community resources, and extended ongoing support over time.

Characteristics of Good Peer Support

  1. Offers living proof of wellness and makes recovery attractive.
  2. Shows faith in the ability to change; encourages and celebrates wellness achievements.
  3. Encourages self-advocacy and self-sufficiency
  4. Genuinely cares and listens, can be trusted, can identify areas for potential growth
  5. Tells the truth, is honest about recovery process, identifies roadblocks
  6. Is a role model for recovery and provides stage-appropriate wellness education
  7. Assists in structuring daily activities around a self-developed plan for wellness
  8. Helps resolve roadblocks and problems, both personal and environmental
  9. Is knowledgeable about help resources, community services, and professional help
  10. Is a companion, an advocate, a cheerleader, and an inspiration

What does Peer Support look like?

Because peer support is not necessarily a professional service (although it can be), peer support can take many different forms, such as phone calls, text messages, group meetings, home visits, going for walks together, or even household chores like cleaning together or going grocery shopping together.

Peer support is intended to complement other forms of treatment. In addition to seeing a therapist or taking medication, peer support has shown to be effective in filling in the professional service gaps.

What is a Peer Support Specialist/Certified Peer Specialist?

While peer supports do not necessarily need to be professionally trained, a Peer Support Specialist or Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) is a professionally trained individual who specifically studied how to be an effective peer support person.

CPS’s attend a 10-day course to learn about the principles of recovery and practice in the core skills of peer-to-peer support. CPS’s are able to:

  • Assist in the development of strengths-based individual goals
  • Serve as an advocate, mentor, or facilitator for resolution of issues that a peer is unable to resolve on their own
  • Develop community supports
  • Provide education on ways to maintain personal wellness and recovery
  • Provide education on navigating the mental health system