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Peers in the Behavioral Health Workforce

Last month, our Catchment Area Councils focused on the role of peer employment in behavioral health. Peer support specialists and their supervisors shared about how peers are used in different workplaces, the value of their experience and training, and challenges and future directions. Summary below; full report here. CT Counseling Centers (one of the presenting agencies) offers CADAC training: info here.

“The Recovery Support Specialist is the embodiment of hope!

You are the example of recovery.”

What is the value of the peer role?

  1. “Shared experience” lets peers make genuine, non-clinical connections with clients and motivate them.

  2. Peers help maintain recovery “in more real situations” during “the other 23 hours” a day where a client is not in group.

  3. Clients often share issues and concerns with peers that they do not share with their clinicians.

  4. Peers help with socialization.

How do agencies see the peer role?

“There’s no challenge that would make an agency not

benefit from working with peers.”

  1. Peers play a valuable and cost-efficient role as part of a treatment team.

  2. Teamwork is important.

  3. Agencies may have to overcome internal bias in hiring peers.


  1. Agencies differ in recognizing the full potential of a peer specialist position.

  2. The peer role in providing recovery support differs from case management and from a therapeutic role, but complements both.

  3. There are not enough paid positions for peers, and funding for some peer programs has been cut.

  4. A consumer may have to decide between an employment opportunity and keeping his or her therapy team.

  5. Peers are in a vulnerable position, since they are sharing their personal experience rather than maintaining clinical boundaries. Self-care and careful supervision are essential.

What are the next frontiers?

  1. Currently, “there is no next level” career path for peer support apart from taking a direct service job. Consideration should be given to levels such as RSS 1, RSS 2.

  2. Peer positions should be expanded within and across agencies. Southwestern CT will soon have peer Recovery Coaches in some hospital emergency departments. CT could create peer-run respites (like Afiya in Massachusetts).

  3. Funding should be maintained.

  4. Advocacy with accreditation bodies to build in a requirement for peer employment will make a difference. DMHAS adding in the requirement to its contracts has led to more peers in the workforce.

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