How to become a peer support specialist

Peer support specialist transfers documents to a clientMany types of professionals can help people living with mental health problems. If you have experienced mental health problems in yourself, you may be interested in a career where you can help others who are facing the same challenges. At the same time, you may feel unsure if you are interested in – or able to continue – the years of training required to become a therapist or psychologist.

Some mental health careers are less well known than others. Not all require a graduate school. A unique career path is peer support specialist. This position differs somewhat from other mental health professions because it requires you to combine specialized education with your personal life experience with mental health problems.

What is a peer support specialist?

If you have made progress in your recovery from a mental health condition and would like to provide support to others who are dealing with similar issues, you may find an ideal peer support position. As a peer support specialist, you will provide support to others living with mental health issues — your peers. This support can be especially valuable because you are able to provide perspective from your own experience.

Therapists and psychologists have received extensive education and training to help people work and learn to cope with all kinds of mental health and emotional concerns. As part of this process, they will have some time to "do their own healing", or to face any personal difficulties or challenges in their lives. However, anyone can work to become a therapist or psychologist, whether he or she is involved in mental health issues.

A shared history of mental health challenges can help you connect with someone even deeper. This can be especially important for people with mental health problems who have negative or difficult experiences with previous therapists. Peer support can also help people living in an area with limited access to treatment.

Peer support may not be a complete alternative to treatment, but your role may be to fill a gap in your community. You can also support someone who has a difficult time making progress on treatment alone.

What do peer support specialists do?

Peer-to-peer specialists can offer support in a variety of ways. You can help your customer by:

  • Planning a crisis
  • Finding and accessing health services or other essential services
  • Developing coping skills
  • Determining recovery objectives and drawing up an action plan
  • Develop good self-care practices, often through modeling your own
  • Identifying personal potentials and values
  • Accessing career resources or developing job search resources
  • Develop community relationships

Above all, you can offer a pleasant ear by providing encouragement, respect and hope to someone who may be struggling with the same mental health, rehabilitation failures, or confidence you have encountered on your journey.

Special peer support jobs

Peer support specialists hold positions in a wide range of workplaces across the United States. Although valued in all communities, peer support specialists may be particularly needed in smaller or rural communities (or in any area where access to mental health services is difficult).

Experts are commonly used by:

  • Outpatient counseling clinics
  • Universities or Community Colleges
  • Hospitals or wellness centers
  • Community centers
  • Telemedicine services

The average income of peer support specialists may vary by state. These are not voluntary positions, so you will receive a salary. But since a peer-to-peer career does not require the same level of psychologist training or career counseling, these positions are not as highly paid. According to PayScale, the average annual salary for a specialist peer support staff in the United States is about $ 32,000.

Peer-to-peer certification

The requirements and training required for specialized certification vary by state. You can check your state specific requirements online with a quick Google search or using the Doors to Wellbeing website.

Once you are a certified peer to peer in your state, you can also become nationally certified. American Mental Health has developed a National Certified Researcher Certification (NCPS). This certification aims to help standardize training, improve and standardize pay, and meet the growing demand for mental health services.

Obtaining this certification involves several steps:

  • First, you need to have active certification to work as a peer to peer in your state.
  • If you have not completed at least 40 hours of training, you should have completed an educational program approved by American Mental Health.
  • You will also need to have completed at least 3,000 hours of voluntary or paid peer support.
  • You have two letters of recommendation ready for your application. You will need a professional recommendation and a recommendation from a supervisor.
  • Apply online for your certification. You can find more information about this process on the American Mental Health website. The online application fee is $ 225.
  • Schedule your exam locally and pay the $ 200 exam fee.
  • Exam study with the test preparation guide and checklist available on the American Mental Health website.

Continuing education (CE) courses are a necessary step in maintaining your certification. According to NCPS requirements, you will need to complete at least 20 hours of CE every two years. You can easily purchase individual CE courses on the GoodTherapy website.

Even if you choose not to pursue national certification, your state may still require you to complete a certain number of CE hours each year.


Research shows that peer support can offer significant benefits, including fewer illnesses and better recovery outcomes.

As a peer support specialist, you can support and encourage others, especially by informing them that you have walked the same path. Your encouragement can help others living with mental health problems to have a new sense of hope that their situation will improve as well.

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