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An Open Letter to the Peer Community
July 14, 2016
From Patrick Hendry, Vice President of Peer Advocacy, Supports & Services
One of the leading criticisms about MHA creating a national certified peer specialist credential is that many people feel this should be done by a peer-run organization. Unfortunately, no peer-run organization has taken on this challenge yet. While MHA National is not a peer-run organization, many of our affiliates are. Our Board of Directors typically runs around 30% peers and well over 50% of our staff self-identify as people with lived experience. All MHA staff who have been working on this project are peers.
I have worked in peer support roles for 26 years and have been the executive director of two fairly large peer-run organizations including the Florida Peer Network which was the statewide peer organization. I was the Director of one of the SAMHSA national TA centers for developing peer organizations across the country. I have been a trainer for over 20 years and have trained in national models and in dozens of trainings created by my staff and me. I was the chair for the expert committee creating the Florida Certified Peer Recovery Specialist credential.
The BOD of MHA has not dictated any of the parameters of this certification, nor has our CEO; rather they have had faith in the abilities of peers to create the best model. The lead person at our partner agency on this project, the Florida Certification Board, Amy Farrington, Director of Certifications is a consummate professional and a peer. She was a former board member of the Florida Peer Network and led the efforts along with Gayle Bluebird, Clint Rayner and me in Florida to create a peer certification in 2006.
Our panel of subject matter experts was led by Larry Fricks, Joseph Rogers, Sue Bergeson, Tom Lane, and Janie Marsh, a working peer specialist and supervisor at MHA Oregon (PeerLink) and Andrea Crook, another working peer specialist and supervisor at MHA of Northern California. In addition we had a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a social worker, and a primary care doctor. The clinicians were part of the panel to help us to understand how we can bring peer support into all aspects of health care. The panel was led by Amy Farrington and me, giving us a healthy majority of peer voices who made the critical decisions about the duties and responsibilities of peers in peer support.
We have never intended to move peers towards doing clinical work in any way. Our efforts are to give peers every tool they need to perform as true peer supporters in a wide variety of settings. Peers are never expected to cross the line into a clinical role or to promote any clinical practice. They are meant to assist people who are working towards the recovery goals of their choice. We feel it is important for a peer working in inpatient settings, emergency departments, or in a service available through referral from a primary care doctor or other professional to understand how to function in those spaces. I do not believe that additional knowledge compromises the integrity of peer support.
We have been careful to send out our materials to thousands of people for public comment. We have had comments and responses from over 1,000 peers and over 95% have been favorable and positive contributions. We are now asking working peers to help us develop our written examination because they are the experts. Our certification is not based on any specific training; rather it is based on knowledge and the ability to pass a rigorous examination. You can take your training through any path available as long as it gives you sufficient knowledge to pass the exam.
We started this project using the iNAPS National Standards, the SAMHSA Core Competencies and the Canadian standards as our starting place and we believe we have stayed true to those well-conceived documents.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.