Peer Support Specialist Certification

What is Peer Support?

Peer support is services delivered by individuals who have common life experiences with the people they are serving. People with mental and/or substance use disorders have a unique capacity to help each other based on a shared affiliation and a deep understanding of this experience. Examples of peer recovery support services include:

  • Peer mentoring or coaching—developing a one-on-one relationship in which an individual with recovery experience encourages, motivates, and supports a peer in recovery
  • Peer recovery resource connecting—connecting the peer with professional and nonprofessional services and resources available in the community
  • Recovery group facilitation—facilitating or leading recovery-oriented group activities, including support groups and educational activities
  • Building community—helping peers make new friends and build healthy social networks through emotional, instrumental, informational, and affiliation types of peer support

Who are Peer Supporters?

Peer Supporters are individuals who have experienced a mental health condition or substance use disorder that are either in or have achieved some degree of recovery. In their role as Peer Recovery Supporters, they use these personal (lived) experiences of illness and recovery—along with relevant training and supervision—to facilitate, guide, and mentor another person’s recovery journey by instilling hope, role modeling recovery, and supporting people in their own efforts to reclaim meaningful and self-determined lives in the communities of their choice. Peer Supporters can also be family members (Family Support Partners) who provide support and assistance to other families who have a child or youth with a behavioral or mental health condition.

Peer Support Research Findings

Research has shown that peer support facilitates recovery and reduces health care costs. Peers also provide assistance that promotes a sense of belonging within the community, and it is known that the ability to contribute to and enjoy one’s community is key to recovery and well-being. Another critical component that peers provide is the development of self-efficacy through role modeling and assisting peers with ongoing recovery through mastery of experiences and finding meaning, purpose, and social connections in their lives. (Source: SAMHSA)

Peer Support Profession in Virginia

Although there were many early adopters, the peer profession was officially recognized in 2015 and is currently supported by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services’ (DBHDS) Office of Recovery Services. There is different terminology for the profession due to its grassroots start, and it is not uncommon to see a variety of employers use different terminology.  One early term is Peer Support Specialist (PSS) although DBHDS chose to use Peer Recovery Specialist (PRS). It is a blend of the Peer Support Specialist (PSS), often associated with mental health peer support, and the Recovery Coach (RC), often associated with substance use peer support. Virginia wanted to include both mental health and substance use together, thus the title of Peer Recovery Specialist. A PRS is someone who provides peer support. A Trained PRS is someone who has been through training to build and enhance their peer support skills. A Certified Peer Recovery Specialist is someone who has gone through the certification process that usually includes training, extended peer support experience and passing an examination.  In Virginia, people are certified through the Virginia Certification Board. However, there are other avenues (such as national certifications, other state certifications) if they meet the requirements set forth by DBHDS.

As of 2017, Medicaid reimbursement is eligible for peer support services related to substance use disorder and mental health issues for children and adults, including youth peer support and parent support providers. CPRS’s must register with the State Board of Counseling in order to have their services billed to Medicaid. This change begins to open broader opportunities for funding such peer specialist roles through the Commonwealth. Virginia offers a single base training for Peer Supporters as well as Family Support Partners with experience in mental health, substance use disorder, and co-occurring behavioral health issues. This training teaches Peer Specialists how to create the mutually based relationship that is foundational to peer services. Learn more below.

As with any new profession, peers are hired to offer a variety of services in a variety of settings with a variety of titles, and many entities are still developing policies, procedures, and culture that support the use of peers. Because of this, many peer staff are often in the position of needing to ‘manage’ or ‘educate up’ the line in an organization, as leaders do not know as much about what the person has been hired to do or the unique skills they offer the organization. Should you need assistance with this, we encourage you to reach out to the Office of Recovery Services for more guidance.

Becoming a Peer Specialist in Virginia

For those interested in becoming a peer specialist, NAMI Virginia, through NAMI programs, can assist you in acquiring the required experience hours.

How NAMI Virginia can assist in obtaining Peer Support Specialist certification

The Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (CPRS) training is designed for individuals with personal, lived experience in their own recovery or experience as a family member or loved one. Peer support services are an important component in a recovery-oriented systems of care. By offering insight into the recovery process based on their own experience, peers are able to provide a unique perspective to those with similar life issues that comprises an essential element towards empowerment and recovery. This belief is the cornerstone of NAMI and NAMI Virginia programming. All NAMI programs are led by individuals with a lived experience of mental health or co-occurring behavioral health issues who offer their learned wisdom to guide and support others with similar or shared experiences.

As part of the certification process, individuals must accrue a certain number of volunteer hours. While NAMI Virginia is not able to certify CPRS’s, we are excited to announce that NAMI program leaders are eligible to include their time leading programs as part of the necessary 500 hours needed for certification. If you are interested in pursuing certification to become a CPRS here in Virginia, please check out the guide and volunteer log needed to capture your volunteer efforts with NAMI Virginia.  

NAMI Virginia Guide for Peer Support Certification

Log of NAMI Programs for Peer Support Certification Hours