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Peer-Led Is Effective

"You don't know what I'm dealing with!" is an exclamation I have heard pretty often the last four years. Sometimes it's true. Most of the time it isn't because I have dealt with "that" - a lot of it anyway. Do you know what happens when I share my story? I make a connection based on shared experience - and that is powerful. When we learn that someone has walked where we're walking and has come out the other side, it creates hope. And it isn't hope based on some unseen result; no, the result and proof are right there.

"Peers" inspire hope that people can and do recover. They walk with recoverees on their recovery journey. They dispel myths about what it means to have a mental health condition or substance use disorder. They provide self-help education and link people to tools and resources. And peers support people in identifying their goals, hopes, dreams, and creating a roadmap for getting there.*

Peer-led recovery is when people use their own experiences to help each other. Think about it this way, when you are at your lowest and see no possible way out, do you want a pep talk from someone who has never faced what you're facing? Or do you want an empathetic response from someone who has dealt with it and battled through it? Someone who can lead the way to a path out? No offense, but I want to hear from the person who has walked this path, not the well-meaning person who has sympathy for my plight.

Certified Addiction Peer Recovery Coaches (CAPRCs) are at the heart of what LITE does and offers. Each staff person at LITE is a CAPRC or has the shared lived experience and training to have become a Community Health Worker (CHW), Certified Recovery Specialist (CRS), and/or Mental Health First Aid certified. These direct service providers differ from traditional counselors. First and foremost they're trained to meet folks where they are and to help them craft a self-directed approach to recovery. Second, they have lived and shared experiences. And just as vital to the recoveree seeking guidance and connection, these peer-led services are provided by people who are volunteers or are paid by grants making the assistance free to the recoveree.

Some in the recovery community refer to peer services as the triage of the work, but that is an outdated description. It's more accurate to refer to peers as the frontline workers in recovery. Frankly, we're all in recovery from something - mental illness, grief, trauma, substance use disorders, hurts, hangups, etc. We could all use the valuable support of a peer. Evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies between 2001 and 2012 found the following benefits of recoverees using a peer-led approach:

  • Increased self-esteem and confidence.

  • Increased sense of control and ability to bring about change in their lives.

  • Raised empowerment scores.

  • Increased sense that treatment is responsive and inclusive of needs.

  • Increased sense of hope and inspiration.

  • Increased empathy and acceptance (camaraderie).

  • Decreased psychotic symptoms.

  • Increased engagement in self-care and wellness.

  • Reduced hospital admission rates and longer community tenure.

  • Increased social support and social functioning.

  • Decreased substance use and depression.

Who wouldn't want those things? Even if you are a so-called "normie" - meaning you have not had to fight these battles yourself, think about the above list of benefits from peers working with people in your community. If a person returns from incarceration or a residential program possessed of these do you suppose they'll have a better chance of successfully transitioning (that's the "T" in LITE by the way)?

Let me give you a real example of how this works. I am going to call the recoveree "John" to protect his identity. Last September I began to encounter "John" stopping by LITE and the LITE Recovery Cafe on occasion for food, rides, etc. He would never engage with me or participate in the Cafe. "John" was displaying signs of borderline personality disorder and perhaps schizoaffective disorder. At a minimum, there was severe paranoia/anxiety and drug-induced psychosis. "John" was agitated, paranoid, didn't trust "them", and on a cocktail of antipsychotic meds without any accompanying therapy. He was justice-involved and homeless. Over two months our CAPRC Supervisor, Rochelle, and Executive Director, Tammy gained his trust by sharing their stories, accepting him, listening to him, feeding him, and giving him rides. At Halloween, "John" finally asked Rochelle for help.

"John" and Rochelle worked to find a match for him with a detox program about an hour away. On December 1st he was released with 30 days of sobriety under his belt; his longest stretch since he was a teen twenty-some years ago. I was the only peer available to pick him up from the detox center to transport him to Indianapolis for a residential recovery program. The hurdles thrown before use included: (1) Getting him to trust me (2) Getting an iv drug user to get a covid vaccine without feeling triggered to use (3) Him taking a 2-hour car ride with someone he barely knew (4) Doing an intake interview with personnel at a place he had never been and (5) "John" had lost his Indiana issued ID card and his Medicaid ID card. Any of these could have derailed the day. As it turned out, the program in Indy would not take "John" because of his mental health needs. A 6th hurdle we had not expected.

Because I had been sharing my battles with an anxiety disorder that at times has been debilitating, "John" began to listen to me and more importantly, trust me. December 1st was a ten-hour day together finding him alternative placement, most of which was on the road from town to town. But the more we talked, the more he realized I did understand what was going on in his head. And that comforted him. And today "John" is celebrating nearly 5 months of sobriety (April 1st) and not taking any antipsychotic meds. He participates in the Recovery Cafe 3 times weekly, attends NA, is part of a CR chapter, and is an outgoing and energetic part of a growing community here at LITE. "John" has his state ID replaced, is studying to take his driver's license exam, and is looking for a job!

That's what peer-led can accomplish. And it's just one of the stories among the 110 we currently have connected to Peer Recovery Coaches at LITE.

*SAMHSA "What Does a Peer Support Worker Do?" portion of "Value of Peers" presentation in 2017.

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