Peer Specialists

in Blog
January 12, 2016

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North Range Behavioral Health has served Weld County for over 30 years. Only recently has the idea of Certified Peer Specialists (or “Peers”) been implemented in crisis response. You might wonder what a Certified Peer Specialist is. Allow me to expand your horizons – my name is Vania Flores, and I am a Certificated Peer Specialist at North Range Behavioral Health. I was hired as part of our Crisis Response Team, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary. My program is based downtown, but North Range employs Peers at many of our different programs located all over Weld County. As a Peer, I meet with the general population who are in need of North Range’s services. It is my job to get to know my clients on a more personal level. They share their story with me and I relate to them in a unique way. I had my bout with depression many years ago and today I feel it was a waste of my precious time. I could not tell you what caused or manifested this in me, but I can tell you that I am a different person today. Mainly, thanks to one special therapist and my own strong will.

See, the thing about being a Peer is that our expertise stems from having lived with and recovered from some kind of mental anguish. “I know how you must feel” rings just a little truer for us. The goal is to provide support on a friendlier basis rather than a clinical setting. Sometimes it is necessary for recovery to have fun and laugh with the Peers in outside-the-box ways. As part of North Range, we do more than just chitchat. We provide our clients with resources and aid them in obtaining their goals any way we can too let them know they are not alone. The building at 928 12th Street is special because it houses a respite unit run entirely by Peers. There, we have the capability to transport our clients to and from meetings, appointments, and their home community. We also work alongside therapists to help deescalate crises. We take part in crisis calls, mobile crisis calls to other businesses and agencies, and client transportation. It may seem like an easy job, but not just anyone who has gone through a rough patch can be a Peer. It takes an individual with a genuine love for people and sense of responsibility to their community, among many other things. We meet new people every day, sometimes broken and beaten, sometimes not so nice, and sometimes just in need of a warm smile and sincere kindness. Therefore, Peers must be flexible, yet strong enough to handle emotions that range from optimism to despair. Peers have influenced the lives of hundreds of residents in Weld County in the year that our Crisis Response Team has been in operation. Our training consisted of knowing when to share our stories and how much of it to share. At times it is helpful for a client to know the hardships we endured in order to see that recovery is within reach, which can bring them hope for their own future. Other times, a simple “oh yeah, that happened to me once” is sufficient. Peers are taught to identify our limits as well. We do our best to help client after client, one story after another, so self-care is part of our training. There have been times when I have had to step out for a while and just take a few deep breaths because the story I was listening to hit too close to home. Most importantly, we are trained to know when to ask for help. A therapist might be called in when there is talk of suicidal ideation or, in a milder case, when a client needs new coping skills to address a personal problem. Hours of lecture, real-life scenarios, and reflection on our own mental health, and wellbeing have prepared us to step into the mental health sector. However, time and experience sharpen the tools that were first given to us.

The impact on those lives make Peers an integral part of our community. Slowly but surely we are making a difference and our influence is reaching further and further. In one study done by the National Coalition for Mental Health and Recovery, titled Peer Support: Why it Works, lists many of the positive aspects of these Peer programs. Clients have felt less stigmatized because of their mental illness or addiction challenges. It has also been suggested that there are significant changes in the levels of overall well-being for clients that participate in peer-ran programs. People who have had an opportunity to work with a Peer feel hopeful about their own recovery, develop positive coping skills and the ability to recognize trigger situations, and are more willing to be responsible for their own recovery and wellness. Repeatedly, we get feedback from individuals who have worked with our Peers who report that their experience was much better because of working with a Peer than it might have been without that help. Unfortunately, on a small scale, there is no data yet to chart the success for Weld County. However, our clients have left comments with us that show their appreciation for Peers’ work at our all-peer staff at the respite and North Range’s services. In the month of November, we have heard:
 

  • The stay here was perfect! The staff was great, I made good friends and I loved it here! I got a lot of support and I’ll miss it here. Love you guys! Thank you!
  • It was nice to know that your staff went out of their way to find out what was going on with me. Thank you for all your help.
  • Have been very helpful and kind here. I have felt really safe here most of the time. Food is always great, Therapists have been really helpful and always seem to be on top of things.
  • Very good staff, it was a very good stay.
  • The staff is very supportive and caring. Love them all.
  • Liked all the staff, they were very helpful.
  • This place was such a blessing in my life! The staff is awesome, food was delicious, and I’m so impressed with the comfort and cleanliness of the facility.  Thank you all SO MUCH and god bless.
  • Everyone made me feel welcome. [The Peers who work here] really made me feel at home.  They talked to me when I really needed to talk. Great Staff.
  • Everyone was helpful!
  • Great Staff.
  • Staff was great! Very helpful and always very encouraging! Thank you!

 
As you can see, Peer support is a special commodity that aids our clients in recovery and, in my opinion, hopefulness. Recovery is possible, and we can help!