Peer providers provide direct support to those in mental health (MH) or substance use disorder (SUD) recovery. The key distinction between peer providers and traditional providers is the ability to draw from lived experience and experiential knowledge. Peer providers have traditionally worked as volunteers, but changes in treatment modalities and recognition of the importance of long-term recovery support have led to a professionalization of the role, including formalized training and certification, and the potential for paid employment.
In The Peer Provider Workforce in Behavioral Health: A Landscape Analysis, UCSF Health Workforce Research Center authors Lisel Blash, MS MPA, Krista Chan, BA, and Susan Chapman, PhD present a review of the published and gray literature on a variety of emerging topics concerning use of peer providers in MH and SUD services. The landscape analysis covers:
- Peer Provider Roles, Organizational Settings, and Models of Care
- Integration of Peer Providers into Traditional Care
- Evidence of Efficacy of Peer Support
- Policy and Financial Infrastructure for Peer Support, including Billing, Reimbursement, and Sources of Funding for Peer Support Programs
- Training and Certification for Peer Support
Among the authors’ findings:
- Peer providers work in a number of support roles in a variety of settings, both in community and residential/in-patient facilities
- Both mental illness and addiction are stigmatized identities, marked by social exclusion and shame. This stigma creates challenges in employing peer providers alongside non-peer colleagues, especially in traditional treatment settings and the friction between traditional and recovery-oriented systems of care is an additional barrier to integrating peer providers.
- Concerns have been raised that standardization and professionalization of the role might jeopardize the special components of peer support that speak to lived experience, despite the potential benefits of such professionalization, including expansion of roles, greater capacity to serve people in need, and paid employment.
The authors advocate for more rigorous research to help establish the efficacy of peer support, and which peer support interventions may provide the most benefit.