The Strategy Workshop for Peer Career Development By Elizabeth Breier, M.A., Director of Wellness Centers Administration, Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey and Jessica Wolf, Ph.D, Principal, Decision Solutions and Assistant Clinical Professor in the Yale Department of Psychiatry
From the 10th Annual NYC Conference for Working Peer Specialists
The workshop goal was to increase working peer specialists’ knowledge about how to progress in their careers. Half of the 20 participants were certified peer specialists; others were working peers not yet certified as well as supervisors and non-peer staff. The co-presenters described the current status of peer training and certification in New York City, State and nationally as well as the variety of roles and settings in which peers can work.
Specific individual and organizational actions needed to support and promote peer career development were described.
These include: proactive human resources strategies; the Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner (CPRP) credential; academic credit for life experience; academic credit for peer training; community college degree options; non-credit continuing education options; in-service training; and training programs such as eCPR, WHAM (Whole Health Activation Management), WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan), IPS (Intentional Peer Support), Veterans’ peer roles, etc.
Also considered were challenges and rewards of moving into non-peer positions, impact of organizational culture on peer career mobility, higher education and career path options, and ongoing networking.
One example of success: A person with lived experience who had a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field (sports management), obtained a 27-credit mental health certificate from a community college, went to work in a psychosocial clubhouse and also a mental health center as a peer worker. Then this individual studied for an MSW degree and graduated with honors. After that, the new MSW undertook the number of hours to become licensed as an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker). This finally led to an increase in compensation into the social worker job series.
Another example of success: A student with lived experience had taken some community college courses and never finished until obtaining the 27-credit mental health certificate. She went on to obtain a bachelor's degree in social work and has been working for a mental health agency ever since.
Lively interchange followed on private and public career paths; reasons why peers work in the field; challenges in retaining “peer-ness” while acquiring additional educational credentials and moving ahead in a peer career; moving into non-peer positions; wage equity issues; avoiding “coercion, co-optation, compliance” and tokenism; attaining an agency critical mass of peer workers; and disclosure issues in peer and non-peer roles.
A handout provided information on specific options peers can undertake as well as possible new credentials and modified academic curricula that may become available in the future.