As a peer specialist, you will likely be working as part of a treatment or services team, rather than working independently with your client. A team is a group of two or more people working together for the common good. In the past, within traditional behavioral health treatment programs, there may have been a hierarchical structure based on the traditional medical model where the doctor ruled. Even though members of the team may have met together to discuss a client, the decision-making model may have been more in the nature of staff reporting to an authority than to a collaborative groups meeting together for shared consultation and decision-making.
With the advent of consumer-driven care and person-centered planning, the team process has had both the peer specialist and the client added to the table as empowered decision-makers. Not all professionals have welcomed these changes, but over time the value of the peer specialist’s contributions have been recognized and accepted.
Your unique role in teams as a peer specialist is to offer a consumer perspective from a more healed and whole place than the client may be able to articulate. This allows you to challenge, educate and inform your fellow team members in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation. You are an expert through your experience. You have an expertise that others may not possess, and that expertise is as important as clinical knowledge. It is up to you to use that expertise in a positive way.
For example, in a team meeting someone may use language referring to that “schizophrenic” and your role would be to say, “Oh, do you mean John? Yes, he has schizophrenia.” In this way, you are challenging the language in a respectful way. In the same way that you would use personal disclosure to help your client to understand something or feel more comfortable, you might use your own recovery story to support the team to gain a better understanding of what the people you are supporting may be experiencing. There may be times where you are like a bridge or translator on the team, advocating on behalf of the perspective of self-determination vs. the perspective that professionals know what is right for the client
Do not allow the fact that you have been a client in the past make you second guess yourself when you are part of a team. You may think the other team members have more power or more knowledge than you, and be unsure about speaking up. It is important to consider other interpretations than “I am not worthy or I’m not good enough”. Your lived experience provides a perspective that every team requires.
Tips for Working Effectively on Teams
Working on teams can be rewarding, but at times it can be difficult. This kind of collaboration does not come naturally to everyone and having a non-clinical team member may be a new experience for some professionals. Here are some tips to help you work effectively as a member of the team.
Communication is Key – Provide accurate complete and timely information, both in your written record and in your interaction at team meetings. Be clear, concise and precise. Model person-first language.
Take Ownership for Your Contributions and Your Reactions – Provide information, perspective and education as appropriate, and be clear when you are offering information from your own perspective or on behalf of the client. Don’t speak on behalf of others unless specifically asked to do so. Take responsibility for your errors or misunderstandings without placing blame on others and keep your reactions to others’ mistakes calm, constructive and respectful.
Support Group Member’s Ideas –If a teammate suggests something, always consider it and try to see the situation through their eyes. One of the advantages of a team is that there are multiple perspectives at the table. We cannot all be right all the time, nor is anyone always wrong. Every team member will view the client’s situation through a different lens based on their training, personal experience and assigned role within the recovery process. Try to find places of commonality or agreement, rather than places of disagreement. When you work to be supportive of other points of view, you open the door for other team members to respectfully consider the perspective you bring to the table.
Listen Actively – In team meetings, use the same active listening skills that you use in communicating with your client. Maintain good eye contact, use non-verbal cues to demonstrate that you are listening, ask probing questions and acknowledge what’s said by paraphrasing points that have been made. If you’re unclear about something that’s been said, ask for more information to clear up any confusion before moving on. Effective communication is a vital part of any team, so the value of good listening skills shouldn’t be underestimated.
Be a Team Player – While it is important to clearly express your ideas or any disagreement that you may have within the context of the team meeting, once a decision is made, you need to support the team’s perspective. Do not undermine or contradict other team members publicly or privately to your client. The solidarity within the team is important for your client as well as for you as a professional. Share suggestions, ideas, solutions and proposals with your team members. Take the time to help your fellow teammates, no matter the request. You can guarantee there will be a time in the future when you’ll need some help or advice. And if you’ve helped them in past, they’ll be more than happy to lend a helping hand.
Respect Boundaries – In the same way that a peer specialist must respect boundaries and allow a client to be autonomous and make personal decisions to direct the recovery process, the peer specialist also needs to respect the boundaries of the roles and disciplines of other members of the team. Each team member has a particular focus and scope of practice and, within that scope, they serve as the expert for the team. Just as the peer specialist and the client are the “experts” on the lived experience of recovery and they expect the other team members to respect this expertise, the physician, counselor or case manager has an expert perspective that should be honored by other team members. Within the team, generally the person whose scope of practice is most applicable carries the most influence within the decision-making process.