How Do I Become a Peer Specialist?

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen
Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

To become a peer specialist, you will first need to contact the certifying agency for peer specialists in the jurisdiction in which you wish to work. Each certifying agency has its own requirements to become a peer specialist, and some agencies offer certification in specific subspecialties. Typically, however, the most important qualification to become a peer specialist is that you self-identify with a substance abuse or mental health disorder and that you are currently in recovery. Many certification boards will require you to work a certain number of hours in either a professional or volunteer capacity with an agency that serves fellow substance abusers or mental health clients. You may also be expected to complete a formal training program, pass a certification exam, and agree to a code of ethics before receiving your certification.

A peer specialist is someone who has either been diagnosed with an addiction or mental illness or who is a parent or caretaker of someone with an addiction or mental illness who offers support to his or her peers in a professional or volunteer capacity. Unlike some mental health workers, a peer specialist has significant knowledge of what it is like to live with a particular condition and can often give unique support to clients who are caretakers or who are living with a diagnosis of their own. Typically, a peer specialist works as part of a team that includes both mental health and medical professionals and paraprofessionals.

After you contact the peer specialist certification organization in your area, review the qualification information. If you are required to have some volunteer or work experience in a mental health setting, you may wish to either apply for a job or a volunteer position at a local agency, hospital, or service organization. You may be required to provide proof of your diagnosis and the fact that you have been in treatment. If you have a therapist or physician who has been supervising your care, you should approach him or her for a letter documenting your diagnosis and situation.

It is not unusual for a certification agency to require someone who wishes to become a peer specialist to hold a high school degree or its equivalent, so you should be prepared to show the certification agency your diploma or high school transcript. The certification agency can let you know about when its training programs are scheduled so that you can complete the necessary training to become a peer specialist. Once training is completed, you may sit for a certifying exam. After you pass the exam, you may automatically be awarded your certification, or you may have to undergo a criminal background check prior to the conclusion of the certification process.

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