Peer support is an increasingly important element in the diagnosis, treatment and recovery from mental and substanceuse disorders. While only coming to public and professional consciousness relatively recently, peer support is not a newphenomenon in behavioral health. It actually has its roots in self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, founded in1935, Narcotics Anonymous and the mental health consumer movement that has been a growing national voice andpresence for decades.
The peer support movement has helped demonstrate that recovery from behavioral disorders is an achievable,sustainable goal. It has helped place behavioral illnesses alongside other chronic, treatable illnesses, such as heart diseaseand diabetes. And, the peer support movement has helped SAMHSA establish a new working definition of recovery: Aprocess of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reachtheir full potential. The use of the term “wellness” in this context is critical.
Peer support isn’t just a movement; it’s a way of delivering care. Specially trained individuals with mental or substanceuse disorders extend services to others with these disorders, using both their training and their personal experience of thejourney of recovery. In many ways, it is much like the peer navigator who works with people with breast or prostatecancer, or with diabetes or heart disease. Each acts as a model of recovery in action.
Peer support has been determined to be an evidence-based practice based on its research-confirmed value as anessential component of care to support and sustain recovery. In fact, in 2007, it was recognized by CMS as a practice that isto be reimbursed under Medicaid. And, given current challenges and opportunities related to the Affordable Care Act(ACA) implementation, to integrating care and to promoting a wellness culture, the role of peer support has never beenmore important (NACBHDD).