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Peer Support 101 (Experience through Trial, Error, and Accomplishment)

I began working as a Certified Peer Specialist in March 2011. I remember my interview went well as it was one of the easiest interviews I experienced, and I enjoyed the conversation I had with the one executive who was most interested in learning about me.

"So, tell me, Erik, why do you want to come work for Peerstar? (Please provide me with a detailed answer

to help me learn about you and understand what you are thinking)."

"I read the job advertisement in the local newspaper and felt that I may have the ability to work one-on-one with an individual who needs added guidance based on my work experiences in Law Enforcement. I have a good friend who has been experiencing what he believes to be an alcohol addiction and he will hint at the idea, but he knows that his drinking is affecting his life responsibilities so when he is in a 'rut' he will call me and we will talk about the actions that led him into his situation, that is, I got drunk and now I'm lying in a field somewhere so just talk with me."

I paraphrased this story to the hiring manager, literally a one-person team at the time, and he was mesmerized by my life experience to be present and focused to help my friend. His words to me were, "that's exactly what I want you to do for us here at Peerstar only we will pay you to do it!" I was in a time period of transition in my life where I was looking for something new. As I was expecting something more with the interview (i.e., a written test, a second interview, job simulation) it was clear, easy, and to the point!

I believe I had a good foundation to work with when I began working as a Certified Peer Specialist. Peerstar was new and this was an era before Regional Directors, Assistant Regional Directors, and Peerstar's company expansion was truly a work-in-progress. Its been a pleasure to observe the exponential growth of 32 Pennsylvania Counties with strong leaders and sufficient resources in place. To this point, we are all learning together. Remember, T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Achieves More).

To say, I am reflecting back on a time of paper notes, and I wrote out a lot of documentation to help justify services. I had a sufficient caseload of peers at the time with diverse backgrounds and needs, and each one of them helped me learn about the mental health community in which they lived, learned, and contributed in some way. Henceforth, resources are essential to assist with wellness needs to feel self-fulfilled. Peer Support is a unique, challenging, and rewarding occupation to choose from. There are people in our communities who need help and unless they know about their community, natural, and treatment networks it can feel impossible to get help. insofar, as I am a firm believer that when Peerstar receives ten referrals, there are another 10+ people who also need help. Herein, networking across system providers is critical.

[Peer Support: Etiquette]

Let me turn the page with you and discuss Peer Support etiquette-mannerisms. To me, Peer Support equals hope and empowerment. The concept of paid professional support to meet with an "individual" at their level working on recovery goals to achieve recovery independence and to be productive in their communities, is fascinating. This [evidence-based] system of support can help our peers when they are ready to participate and know more about what resources are available. Markedly, I work to ensure quality services with my peers as follows:

1) Communicate with them about scheduling, rescheduling, respect, and ensuring a safe and comfortable meeting environment. In fact, we discuss this often for their benefit.

2) Talk with your peer about hobbies, interests, talents, skills, education, and work history, and of course, learn more about their wellness. It is helpful to know your peers and share about yourself as you are comfortable: we all have a story, be prepared to share your story in brief.

3) Learn with you peer(s) together. Find resources and call together and cheer them on to take this initiative over time. This can be fun, and challenging, and you learn together which could also benefit you more.

4) Inform your peer that you are working to take notes. Write sufficient notes that you and your peer can be proud of. Read the note with your peer, perhaps they want to add something to the note as well. When you practice writing good notes, you will be happy with your work.

[Peer Support: Conversation]

Do you find that some of your peers are talkative and may go on a rant while other peers are non-talkative and obtaining information or feedback from them is a challenge? Looking at your experiences, is there anything you would do differently? When I feel stuck, I find myself, at that moment, with a writer’s bloc and experiencing tunnel vision. I need to "re-check" myself and I'll begin to review my peer's goals and work to establish a conversation with them:

(Example: Peer's Name, your goal of increasing self-worth involves finding new things to do that may help you feel accomplished, so have you thought about anything you can do to feel accomplished? "No!"

If I want to work on feeling motivated or accomplished, I may begin by using the vacuum and sweeping. Or, I may decide to organize my bedroom, put things away, and clean. Maybe, I want to challenge myself and create a new daily routine… What do you think about these suggestions? "They are ok.")

Yes, conversations can be tough with peers for numerous reasons but working to be consistent and persistent can pay off. This may be a time of patience and perseverance as well as trying to get our peer(s) involved. I think many of us have experienced this.

As a tenured employee with Peerstar, I value my role of assisting my peers with their wellness-recovery journey. Everyone has a story to tell; similarly, I find we all need guidance and direction at times. The pandemic did not help make peer support easier as it challenged our tolerance. It is good to remember that each day is a new day, and it is okay to make mistakes only to learn and prosper from them. We are all work in progress: some peers are ready to do better for themselves while others are not ready for peer support, and we present no judgment only guidance for when they are ready. Here's to another day! I am cheering for each of you!

Words of Wisdom

Be Quick to Hear, Slow to Speak, and Slow to Anger

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Work for the Cause Not the Applause

Raise your Words, not your Voice.

For Its Rain that Grows Flowers,

not Thunder.

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