Although specific job descriptions for peer specialists will vary based on the settings in which they are employed, generally, peer specialists can be expected to perform the following functions:
- Provide information to their peers
- Act as role models and mentors in navigating the process of recovery
- Act as a referral source to clinicians and other professionals within their agency
- Provide support and understanding to their peers
- Help peers in problem solving, decision making and goal setting.
There’s no such thing as a “typical” day for many peer specialists. Their day might include visiting some peers at home, researching community resources, assisting with transportation, teaching a client how to create a budget, running a peer-led artists group or doing paperwork. Some peer specialists work part-time, a few hours a week, while others work or volunteer full-time. Some hold positions as supervisors or leaders of teams of other peer specialists.
Peer support specialists do both direct work with clients and indirect work that supports their work with clients. The main types of direct work are advocacy, connecting to resources, experiential sharing, building community, relationship building, group facilitation, skill building/mentoring/goal setting, and socialization/self-esteem building. The main types of indirect work are group planning and development, administration, team communication, supervision/training, receiving support, education/awareness building, and information gathering and verification. Peer support specialists also work at building relationships with staff and act as ambassadors to legitimize the peer role. The peer role is explicitly a non-clinical one, which does not involve treatment, assessment or evaluation. Instead of being therapists, peer specialists act as educators, advocates, and knowledgeable brokers who are able to link clients to community-based supports and other resources.
In order to perform these tasks, peer specialists must have certain skills, knowledge and capabilities. Collectively, these are known as competencies. Here is a list of the competencies required to be an effective peer specialist for clients with behavioral health conditions.
- Outreach Worker: Identifies and engages hard-to-reach individuals; offers living proof of the transformative power of recovery and makes recovery attractive.
- Motivator: Exhibits faith in the client’s capacity for change; encourages and celebrates their recovery achievements and mobilizes internal and external recovery.
- Resource: Encourages the client’s self-advocacy and economic self-sufficiency.
- Ally and Confidant: Genuinely cares and listen to the client. Can be trusted with confidences and can identify areas for personal growth.
- Truth-teller: Provides feedback on the recovery process. Identifies areas which have presented or may present roadblocks to continued abstinence.
- Role Model and Mentor: Offers their life as living proof of the transformative power of recovery and provides stage-appropriate recovery education.
- Planner: Facilitates the transition from a professionally directed treatment plan to a client-developed and directed personal recovery plan. Assists in structuring daily activities around this plan.
- Problem Solver: Helps resolve personal and environmental obstacles to recovery.
- Resource Broker: Is knowledgeable of links for individuals or for their families to sources of sober housing, recovery-conducive employment, health and social services, and other recovery support. Matches individuals to particular support groups or 12-Step meetings.
- Monitor or Companion: Maintains observation of the client as required to assist in maintaining sobriety.
- Tour Guide: Introduces newcomers into the culture of recovery. Provides an orientation to recovery roles, rituals, language, etiquette, and opens doors for opportunities for community participation.
- Advocate: Provides an invaluable service for those resistant to remaining abstinent from drugs and/or alcohol, but who must do so due to legal, medical, family or contractual obligations, as well as helping the individual’s family navigate complex social, service and legal systems.
- Educator: Provides a client with normative information about the stages of recovery. They can facilitate the process necessary to remain free from the addiction, inform the client of the professional helpers within the community and about the prevalence, pathways and lifestyles of long-term recovery.
- Community Organizer: Helps develop and expand recovery support resources, enhances cooperative relationships between professional service organizations and local recovery support groups; cultivates opportunities for people in recovery to participate in volunteerism and performs other acts of service to the community.
- Lifestyle Consultant/Coach: Supports the client through challenges arising from everyday activities. Assists individuals and their families to develop sobriety-based rituals of daily living. Encourages activities across religious, spiritual, and secular frameworks that will enhance life meaning and purpose.
- Friend: Provides sober companionship and a social bridge from the culture of addiction to the culture of recovery.