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DBHDS Peer Support Specialist Guide for Affiliates

What is a Peer Support Specialist?

Peer Support or Recovery Specialists (PSS/PRS) 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.


NAMI Virginia is dedicated to upholding the value of peer support and recovery. In recognition of the importance of the Peer Recovery Specialist role, hours accrued as a volunteer for NAMI programs may count towards the certification to become a PRS. Since program leaders are members of affiliates, this will impact the programs throughout Virginia and how programs are managed at a local and state level.  


This guide is meant to assist affiliates with supporting their program leaders who plan to use hours accrued with NAMI Programs towards their certification. Interested individuals, parents and youth wishing to become a DBHDS certified PRS must complete a 72-hour training and accumulate 500 hours of experience. 475 of those hours must be providing the service as well as preparing for the service. 25 of those hours must be supervision hours.

Below are the VA Certification Board definitions that apply to NAMI Virginia programs:  

Experience Hours:

  • Providing Service: Holding a course, facilitating a support group.
  • Preparing for the Service: Attending trainings to lead NAMI Programs, hours prepping to lead the NAMI Program.

Supervision Hours:

  • Supervision: a formal or informal process that is administrative, evaluative, and supportive. It can be provided by more than one person and promotes professional development.
  • Completed by your NAMI Affiliate and/or NAMI Virginia.
    • Included but not limited to: program retreats, program refreshers, gearing up calls, and general feedback from NAMI Virginia and your local affiliate.

Both supervision and experience hours are interchangeable.  For example, if a program leader and program coordinator meet for one hour to discuss their program, then they can count it as one hour under Experience and one hour under Supervision.  

What is not included as hours towards certification:

  • Attending NAMI programs as a participant, i.e. educational courses, support groups, trainings to become program leaders, Convention, NAMI Virginia Summit.
    • EXCEPTION TO THIS RULE: Individuals who are already certified PRS will need to maintain that certification by completing education hours. Programs attended as a participant count, but only for those individuals already certified, not for people who are in the process of certification.

What NAMI Virginia Does

  1. Promote our program services as ways to prepare/qualify for this profession.
    • Trainings will include a certificate that entitles the PRS to hours towards certification. Hours will reflect length of training.
  2. Provide a form to track hours.
    • NAMI Affiliate and/or NAMI Virginia will review form and ensure adequate hours.
      • Experience hours – preparing for or executing programs.
      • Supervision hours – refreshers, retreats, gearing up calls.
      • Education hours – only applies to individuals who are already PRS.
    • NAMI Virginia and/or NAMI Affiliate will sign off on form.

What Affiliates Can Do

Affiliates may create their own process around supervision and hour tracking for the CPRS certification. Below are suggestions on ways to formulate that process:

  1. Promoting the programs as a way to qualify for CPRS.  
    • This is an opportunity to enhance outreach to the community and build leadership within the existing programs. Having NAMI as a supporter of CPRS certification can increase visibility of the organization’s mission.
    • Promote on training flyers and/or event flyers.
    • Promote at monthly meetings.
    • Alert all Program Leaders so that they may promote in their classes and/or groups.
  2. Screening for trainings:
    • When screening interested individuals for program trainings, include the NAMI Virginia documents for CPRS such as the tracking form and the guide.
    • Ensure individuals are aware that NAMI does not certify PRS.
    • The PRS certification is separate from their volunteer work for NAMI. They are still representing NAMI when leading programs.
  3. Volunteer Management:
    • Create a plan for tracking CPRS hours.  
      • Set up one on one supervision meetings with program leaders who have expressed interest in counting NAMI Programs towards certification.
      • Sign off on tracking forms.
    • Alert program leaders of refreshers, conference calls, and other affiliate related program events that can be counted towards certification.

Benefits to Affiliate

  • Opportunity to grow outreach into the community.
  • Build credibility and influence; other organizations will want to work with us if our doors are open.
  • Changes the culture, reverses misconceptions, fights stigma associated with mental illness.
  • Grow our membership and our reach to all kinds of potential members, including parents, young adults, and older adults.
  • Spread and promote the NAMI message of recovery and peer support.

Next Steps

If there are questions on this process or about the CPRS certification, please email Mary Beth Walsh at

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