Peer Support and Peer Mentoring
Milkweed Connections is a Peer-Run Organization. This means that all members of our group identify as peers with the people we support. We may identify as peers because we have a history of mental health or substance use concerns, or because we have a history of trauma, or other backgrounds and experiences that presented challenges to our abilities to navigate life easily. Many of us have had experience accessing formal mental health and substance use supports, while others have not, either by choice, because we had sufficient natural supports, or because formal supports weren’t available.
What ties us together is the belief and approach to our work that we are not different in any significant way than the people we support. When we recognize the similarities between ourselves and the people we’re supporting, it paves the way to the peer relationship: a supportive relationship built on mutuality.
All our providers have education and experience in providing peer support. Many of our providers have gone through a specific process to become Wisconsin Certified Peer Specialists (CPS). To become a CPS, a person must identify with having lived experience with mental health and/or substance use challenges. They go through an intensive 48-hour training and then must sit for a state certification exam. Once this process is completed and a person passes their exam, they become a CPS. Once certified, CPS's must complete ongoing continuing education in order to maintain their certification.
CPS's can provide support through the Peer Support service array. The Peer Support service array is a great service array to use when the benefits of services are related to the peer support relationship. Some examples of objectives that go well with the Peer Support service array are to:
Learn social skills through building a relationship with their peer
Increase natural supports by exploring social activities with their peer
Learn how to identify healthy relationships through their relationship with their peer
Build confidence in expressing thoughts and feelings by interacting with a trusted peer
Increase life satisfaction by exploring interests and hobbies with their peer
Build a wellness toolbox by exploring coping skills and wellness activities with their peer
Build confidence being in the community by going into community settings with a trusted peer
Develop a person-centered crisis or WRAP plan with the support of a peer who’s shared similar experiences
Develop self-advocacy skills by exploring wants and needs, and taking steps to express those wants and needs with the support of a trusted peer
Develop goals and decide on treatment options with the support of a peer who’s shared similar experiences
Milkweed Connections providers who aren’t CPS may provide support that is similar to the peer support work done by CPS; in these instances, we refer to that support as Peer Mentoring. Peer Mentoring can often be captured under the ISDE or Wellness Management and Recovery service array.
Not all Supports Provided by Peers are Peer Support
We have providers who are licensed massage therapists, acupuncturists, certified yoga/martial arts/TRE instructors, and more. When these providers give someone a massage or teach them yoga, those are supports provided by a peer, not peer support. A different service array, such as ISDE or Wellness Management and Recovery, should be used in those instances. A good clue that a different service array should be used is if one of our providers is teaching, coaching, or providing a treatment/therapy.
It might seem like splitting hairs, but it is important to the integrity of peer support that we honor its unique and defined role. Peer support is a mutual relationship where both parties have a lot of responsibility, as opposed to a relationship where one person – usually the provider -- has power, is the expert, or has more responsibility for the outcome of their time together. No matter what support is given or which service array is being used, our providers recognize the people we support as our peers and are dedicated to interacting with them authentically and with as much mutuality as possible.
Determining what is and isn’t peer support can be confusing and is something that advocates in the peer support world grapple with ourselves. If you have questions or need help deciding which service array to use, Kate is happy to assist.
For More Information
“Value of Peers,” a publication by SAMHSA, the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration
“Declaration of Peer Roles” from the Western Mass Peer Network