Training programs for peer specialists are vital to helping consumers gain employment and become skilled providers. Dedicated training programs offer valuable opportunities for consumers to gain skills. These programs are also an important component of a commitment to consumer involvement in the design, delivery, and evaluation of services.
Housing Options Made Easy, Inc. has been a leader in offering peer specialist training and promoting the legitimatization and credentialing of peer support specialists. Located in Western New York State, the agency is one of the largest peer-run agencies in the country and one of only a few that provide supportive housing to families. Housing Options employs a staff comprised entirely of peer-providers in its supportive housing program for families.
As a consumer-founded and consumer-run program, Housing Options was an early innovator in the peer-provided services movement. The agency believes that training is vital to help support staff in their transition from “consumer” to “peer provider.” All new direct service staff members participate in an initial two-week training. This training is supplemented with ongoing bi-monthly training sessions to refresh skills and introduce new topics.
In addition, the agency offers peer specialist training courses in conjunction with the University of Buffalo. They offer three levels: introductory; intermediate; and advanced. The three-course sequence is designed to prepare individuals who have a history of mental illness to work effectively in the behavioral health system as consumers and peer specialists. The course is open to all individuals in the community who are adults currently in treatment or with a history of treatment for a DSM-IV Axis I disorder (including both mental health and chemical dependency diagnoses), and an interest in becoming a peer provider.
The course aims to prepare peer providers to function in various roles including:
- Peer Case Manager/Peer Specialist
- Peer Advocate
- Self-Help Facilitator/Coordinator
- Peer Trauma Specialist
- Mental Health Court Advocate
The learning objectives of the peer specialist training program include:
- Recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness, chemical dependency and co-occurring disorders.
- Learn appropriate person-centered recovery responses to mental illness, chemical dependency, and co-occurring disorders.
- Develop the skills needed to function in the role of peer specialist in Personalized Recovery Oriented Services (PROS).
- Learn how to navigate the behavioral health service delivery system and how to secure services.
- Understand concepts of Personalized Recovery Oriented Services (PROS).
- Understand professional and consumer responsibilities.
- Develop workplace skills and communication strategies.
The course is designed for students who have a high school degree and can read at the 6th grade level or higher. The class meets weekly for three hours. Students may attend online or in person. Students complete a pre- and post-test of skills and submit a final paper on a behavioral health topic relevant to Personalized Recovery Oriented Services (PROS), New York State’s comprehensive recovery-oriented program for individuals with severe mental illness.
Five core topics are covered over a ten-week period. Required reading for the course includes: Housing Options’ “Advocacy for Empowerment Manual”; white papers by the New York State Office of Mental Health; articles on person-centered planning, and white papers by the Western New York Care Coordination Program. Students who complete the introductory and/or immediate courses are eligible for an internship arranged as an Independent Study.
Visit Housing Options Made Easy’s training webpage to learn more about upcoming classes.
Want to learn more about Housing Options Made Easy? Check out the archived webcast, “Operating a Peer-Run Supportive Housing Program for Families,” presented by Housing Options Made Easy staff, Joseph Woodward and Laura Bentley.
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