Use of Supervision
Effective supervision is a critical resource that helps to support your success as a peer support specialist. Supervision differs from training in that it is targeted at job performance, rather than at acquiring new knowledge. Your supervisor will guide you in:
- understanding your roles and responsibilities
- setting appropriate expectations for your performance
- dealing with issues of confidentiality and disclosure
- handling boundary issues
- resolving ethical dilemmas
- following applicable policies, regulations and laws.
In most agencies, supervisors set a regular time for supervision meetings with the peer support specialist. These meetings can be either individual conferences, group sessions or a combination of the two. While most supervision is provided face-to-face, in this age of technology some supervisory contacts may occur via telephone, video conferencing or other electronic means.
Supervisors generally have more training and experience than the people they supervise and this can make them a valuable asset to you as a peer support specialist. In the same way that you provide role modeling and mentorship to your client, your supervisor provides role modeling and mentoring to you. The difference is that the supervisory relationship is one of authority, rather than the relationship of equals that exists between you and your client.
An important caution for both peer support specialists and their supervisors is to avoid making the supervisory relationship a counseling relationship. Your supervisor is likely to be a counselor or have a counseling background. As a person in recovery, it is natural for you to think that a counselor is there to provide support for you. While your supervisor may act in a supportive way, the focus of the supervision relationship needs to remain on your job performance and the services you are providing to your client. If you encounter a situation in which you need therapeutic support, you should seek those services outside of the supervisory relationship. It is okay for you to advise your supervisor that you need such help and perhaps even request an appropriate referral, but you should not expect your supervisor to act in this role.
Supervision meetings often must address both administrative issues and client-related issues. The following are typical agenda issues for a supervision meeting:
- Performance – how things are going, what is working well, time management
- Consultation regarding ethical or boundary questions
- Education/Growth – skill development, sharing of resources, assistance with accessing resources, review of progress towards professional goals
- Relationships with co-workers
- Management issues – general agency policies and procedures
- Personal Wellness – any challenges getting in the way of performing duties or factors that can improve performance and wellness on the job.
Aside from regularly scheduled supervision sessions, you should seek supervision and consultation in the following instances:
- An emergency occurs
- You are at risk of relapse or burnout
- You have an ethical dilemma or question
- You have made an error that affects a client
- You recognize a need for training
- You have a question about policy or procedure.
Chain of Command and Notification
In a behavioral health treatment or other human service organization, a chain of command is created to provide workers at all levels with a supervisor to whom they may ask questions or report problems. The chain of command refers to levels of authority in the company from the top position, such as a CEO or Executive Director, down to workers on the front line. An effective chain of command facilitates communication, teamwork, and collaboration between the decision maker and the peer support specialist, who is on the front lines of delivering service to the client. Instructions flow downward along the chain of command and accountability flows upward.
An organizational chart is one way of explaining a chain of command, although some organizations may deviate from what is written on paper. Understanding the chain of command will tell you:
- Who can give you permission to take an action that is outside your regular routine operations
- Who will provide directions to you in case of an emergency or natural disaster
- Who should receive reports of problems, adverse incidents, absences or other situations that affect your ability to do your job.
The chain of command also offers a path through which a client or an employee may appeal decisions with which they disagree. Generally, appeals must proceed step-by-step through the chain of command if resolution at one level is not satisfactory. It is beneficial to resolve conflicts at the lowest and most direct level possible.
As a peer support specialist, you are not likely to have someone ranking below you in the chain of command unless you are a team leader. Often your direct supervisor will be the person above you in the chain of command, but it is important to verify exactly what the reporting and communication protocol will be. Going outside the chain of command is generally frowned upon, but it may be necessary if the person immediately above you in the chain of command is not available and an immediate decision must be made.
Ongoing Professional Development
Another professional responsibility that you have as a peer support specialist is to continue to receive training and to improve your service delivery skills. Most professional licensure or certification programs, including those for peer support specialists, require a certain number of continuing education hours in order to renew the credential after it is awarded. Specific requirements will vary by state and by level of certification.
Ongoing professional development occurs in several ways:
- within the context of clinical supervision
- through in-service training provided by the agency at which you are employed
- in continuing education training, either online or face-to-face
- within “communities of practice” – that is through intentional conversation and consultation with other peer support specialists.
Ongoing professional development helps to avoid burnout and to keep you up-do-date on the latest developments and changes in your field or practice. Since some of the work that you do as a peer support specialist is out in the community without other colleagues present, keeping connected through professional development activities can help you to reinforce your own recovery practices, maintain and improve your professional skills and remind you of peer support’s guiding values.
Maintaining Personal Wellness
The issue of maintaining personal wellness is a difficult one in the world of peer support specialists. The chronic nature of substance use and mental health disorders means that peer support specialists are vulnerable to a return of symptoms that affect their performance on the job. The very thing that makes peer support so effective – the power of lived experience—also makes the personal wellness issue complicated. Peer support specialists serve as role models and examples that recovery is possible, so when a peer support specialist is not engaging in good self-care or is experiencing an episode of active symptoms, this affects the relationship between the peer support specialist and the client. This is true for other helping professionals as well, but the impact is particularly significant when the client identifies with the peer support specialist because of their shared experience. As a peer support specialist, you are not expected to be perfect, but there should be some link between how you live your life and what you say to your client about the life they want to live. Part of your job is to make recovery attractive—to make recovery as contagious as addiction in the local community.
We discussed personal wellness extensively in Module 4. As a peer support specialist, you should have a personal wellness plan or recovery support plan in place and you should engage in ongoing review of your status on each of the dimensions of wellness. Your wellness does not become an ethical issue until your status on any of the dimensions reaches a level where you can no longer perform job responsibilities or serve as a good example of recovery for your client. You can fulfill your ethical responsibility regarding wellness by:
- having a personal wellness plan in place
- monitoring your wellness in each dimension on an ongoing basis
- knowing your triggers and warning signs
- having personal support systems in place
- notifying your supervisor if your personal wellness status has a possibility of affecting your job performance
- taking a break from service delivery if required
- seeking appropriate counseling or other intervention as necessary.
Action Points – Other Professional Responsibilities
- In addition to adhering to professional codes of ethics, the Peer Support Specialist has the following professional responsibilities:
- appropriate use of clinical supervision
- following appropriate chain of command
- ongoing professional development
- maintaining personal wellness