Training Peer Support Specialists on Aging and Behavioral Health
Beginning in 2020, the Vibrant Aging: Peers Program will pilot Behavioral Health and Aging, an 8 hour training course for Certified Peer Recovery Specialists (CPRS) or anyone who provides peer support. The Behavioral Health and Aging training program was created in partnership with the Maryland Behavioral Health Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs.
The training will discuss:
- Maryland’s growing population of older adults
- Later life behavioral health
- Long lived experience
- Late onset and late-identification of behavioral health disorders
- Challenges to recovery
- Resources for aging consumers.
his 8-hour training is worth 6 CPRS CEU credits in the Ethics Domain. Anyone who provides peer support is welcome to attend. If you are interested in participating in the training please contact Casey Saylor, Older Adult Project Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 443-901-1550 x213. To learn more about older adult behavioral health, visit Older Adults Vibrant Minds.
Are you working on obtaining your CPRS but need more practice hours? Consider volunteering to conduct peer support with older adults through the PEERS Volunteer Support Program. We can also provide supervision as Registered Peer Supervisors.
What is Peer Support?
Peer support is a practice of meaningful connection, and research indicates it is very effective with behavioral health disorders. The following definition from Mental Health America defines peer support’s context, role, and workforce.
Put simply, a peer is a person we identify with in some capacity. This can include anything from age to gender to sexual orientation to shared language.
In behavioral health, a peer is usually used to refer to someone who shares the experience of living with a psychiatric disorder and/or addiction. In that narrow context two people living with those conditions are peers, but in reality most people are far more specific about whom they would rely on for peer support. Trust and compatibility are extremely important factors.
Peer support is the “process of giving and receiving encouragement and assistance to achieve long-term recovery.” Peer supporters “offer emotional support, share knowledge, teach skills, provide practical assistance, and connect people with resources, opportunities, communities of support, and other people.”1 In behavioral health, peers offer their unique lived experience with mental health conditions to provide support focused on advocacy, education, mentoring, and motivation.
Peer providers can play many roles in support for people living with psychiatric disorders and/or in addiction recovery. They are capable of facilitating education and support groups and working as a bridge linking people to services as they transition from institutions into the community. Peers also work one-on-one as role models, mentors, coaches and advocates and support people in developing psychiatric advance directives and creating Wellness Recovery Action Plans (WRAP).
Peers go by many names and can work in many different settings. Many peers have additional training and certification that demonstrates their skills and knowledge. Combined with their lived experience and ability to engage and connect with consumers, peer supporters are a dynamic and growing group that continue to transform lives and systems.
Peer support is an evidence-based practice. To learn more about how peer support is impacting recovery outcomes, go here. To learn more about becoming a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist in Maryland, go here.
Bringing Older Adult Peer Support to Baltimore County
To ensure that we’re meeting Baltimore County’s needs, our first step was to conduct a needs assessment with stakeholders in older adult behavioral health. Rooted in the understanding that behavioral health peer support is an evidence-based practice, the needs assessment focused on identifying whether or not stakeholders thought peer support would be relevant for older adults, if peer support specialists need to be older adults themselves, what additional information peer support specialists needed to know in order to serve an older adult population effectively, and local referral sources.
19 focus groups were conducted between April 2019 – December 2019. 136 people participated, including older adults, peer support specialists, family members, caregivers, and professionals from health, aging, and behavioral health organizations. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive towards peer support for older adults and participants had many suggestions for its implementation in Baltimore County.
For now, this feedback is being used to inform our Behavioral Health and Aging training and Volunteer Support Program. In the future, we plan to thematically analyze participant feedback and compile it into a report.