Peer Support Specialist: Bill
This week we are sharing the profiles of two of our amazing Peer Support Specialists and the awesome work they do here at CMHA York Region and South Simcoe.
We’d also like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the CMHA College of Health and Well-Being (based on the Recovery College* model), that is aimed at enabling people to become experts in their own self-care and to develop skills and confidence to manage their own recovery journey. The courses in the CMHA College of Health and Well-Being are informative and interactive, developed and delivered by peer supporters, like those featured in these profiles, who are experts because of their experiences. We hope you will take the time to learn more about the CMHA College of Health and Well-Being and to view the Spring Course Guide. There is truly something for everyone, no matter where you are in your journey.
What is Peer Support?
According to Peer Support Canada, “Peer support is based on a relationship between people who have a lived experience in common. In the case of Peer Support the experience that individuals or groups have in common is in relation to a mental health challenge or illness, or an addiction or substance use challenge. This common experience might be relative to their own health or that of a loved one.”
Peer Support is grounded in hope, empowerment and recovery, creating an authentic relationship where people can use their lived experience in order to assist others in their recovery.
Why did you choose to become a Peer Support Specialist?
I wanted to share the light with others as many face dark cloudy days without hope.
One example of a success story during my time as a Peer Support Specialist, is when a client talked about suicide and had the courage to ask questions, easing the pain in the moment. At the end of our discussion, the client did reveal that it was frustration and that they had no real plan of following through with the suicide, but just wanted the pain to go away. I was able to provide them with some resources to follow up on and two weeks later they were in a better frame of mind.
Why are Peer Support Specialists important?
We have lived experience and know the struggle that many of the challenges our clients face day to day. Having personally suffered we can relate to common concerns that clients have, such as racing thoughts and troubles with self-medicating, while providing some self-care techniques that have worked for us, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Peer Support Specialists are important because we can provide clients with hope by sharing our experiences on the road to offering our clients better mental health for themselves.
What do you love most about being a Peer Support Specialist?
I love that I can make a difference in someone’s day and that people are vulnerable enough to allow us on their journey. As a volunteer my role was limited to a weekly meeting, but as a Peer Support Specialist, I can foster a relationship and partner with someone on their journey throughout the week. As a member of a greater team, I can also draw on the expertise of my coworkers to provide our client with a more holistic approach to care. By developing a relationship over time, we can see the growth in our client’s self-determination and feel a part of their journey.
What are some of the things that you do on a daily basis?
Most days I call to listen and ask questions, while offering some suggestions and resources for self-discovery. Listening to our clients is so important, because it is essential that we look through their lens, as opposed to our own, as a way to ask questions that will allow them to self-discover. Sharing resources such as mindfulness can help open a client up to self-care and therapy outside of the medical model, providing them with a different outlook to wellness. Often our clients have to try different things to find what works for them.
What is something about Peer Support Specialists that others might not know?
We have lived experience and can personally identify with our clients’ challenges. In my life, I have had others who were my Peer Supports in different ways and I’m glad I can do the same for others. However, as a Peer Support Worker, it is essential that people remember that it takes great courage to be vulnerable and share with others. This is a struggle for us at times, as we often get triggered and need to take time for some self-care ourselves. Although we may seem fine, it is essential for people to remember that because we have lived experience, we need to constantly make sure that we set boundaries and practice self-care.
*Recovery Colleges are modeled after a traditional college, however they are not considered postsecondary education. They are not governed by the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act, 2002 OR The Private Career Colleges Act, 2005. The Recovery College model was developed in England and has been widely replicated internationally.