Peer Specialists,  What’s In a Name? by Howard Diamond

August 22, 2022 (Submitted by Howard Diamond)

My name is Howard Diamond, I have lived on Long Island for many years and since November, 2017, I have been a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS). In addition, I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing Communications. Over the years, while working in the Mental Health Field, I have taken a number of on-line courses and written articles on changing ideas and philosophies of peer support. Also, through my perspectives, I hope to get more respect and gratitude for Peer Specialists plus trying to make it a viable choice as a major in colleges and universities and leading to a justifiable career.   

Due partly as a conclusion of prejudicial and a worldwide opinion, many Peer Specialists around the globe are treated as second hand traditional counselors. In addition, a high percentage are relegated to positions of lower status and lower salaries; even though, we are performing many of the same kind of responsibilities, duties or tasks. We are called Peer Specialists, but is that what we do?

Traditional counseling service agencies seem to have taken over the term, “counselor”. Also, it is frowned upon by others who want to also use this word. Are therapists trying to protect what is believed to be for all
therapists alone? Do counselors think this because of wage or job security? Think about this. Hmm, is this remotely possible?   

As a Peer Specialist, I am concerned about our ever changing name. Some days, we are Peer Specialists, then it is called Peer Supporters. For other instances we use a combination named, Peer Support Specialists. A few years ago, we were identified as Peer Counselors. This discussion sounds
childish and often is petty plus borders on being silly. How can we hope to be unified when we can not pick out our name? We are people first, we will get through this.

Are the populous scared of treating Peer Specialists like professionals? Our sense of reality is that a good percentage of us have several years of actual first-hand experience with mental health concerns. In addition, we have extensive training in peer support methods. Many Peer Specialists are highly educated with undergraduate diplomas from college and universities plus Master Degrees, too. Oh yes, there are Doctors that are peers.  

Since my friend has a background in counseling and therapy, I figured I can pick his brain. He noticed that Peer Specialists use methods that are similar to mental health counselors. Also, he stated that a couple of these are, Client-Centered Therapy and technique of Motivational Interviewing. These approaches are used by many peer supporters who borrow plenty of components and forms of therapy or counseling. So maybe we need to call, Peer Specialists, perhaps Peer Counselors.  A popular baseball expression,
“Call them as we see them”?, reflects some people’s opinion on identifying Peer Specialists.

Client-Centered Therapy or Person-Centered Therapy was developed in the 1940’s by Psychologist and author, Carl Rogers. It is a form of talk therapy. In this approach, we act as an equal partner in the therapy process, while our therapist frequently remains non-directive. These therapists don’t pass many judgements on our feelings plus tend not to offer suggestions or solutions. Rogers also believed that people are the best expert on our lives and experiences. His form of therapy was to allow his clients to fulfill potential by relying on our strength to change. 

Motivational Interviewing is a counseling method developed by two Psychologists, William R Miller and Stephen Rollnick in the 1980’s into the 1990’s. It involves enhancing a person’s motivation to change by
means of four guiding principles. These are expressed by the acronym RULE:                                 

  • Resist the Righting Reflex
  •  Understanding the Person’s Own Motivations
  •  Listen with Compassion
  •  Empower the Person.         

Both therapists and Peer Specialists use these techniques to assist the people they work with. Maybe, this is the push to call Peer Specialists, back to an initial name, Peer Counselors. However, each come from
different frames of reference. While the therapist uses techniques that have worked for people, Peer Specialists use methods that we might have been employed, this way it is first hand knowledge. Also,
Peer Specialists don’t really counsel others, we give others options that have assisted the peer itself.   

Thankfully some professionals are using the preferred terminology, as Peer Specialists. However, I have seen “peer counseling” used in psychiatric rehabilitation textbooks. In fact,  Mary Ellen Copeland, author of “Wellness Recovery Action Plan” continues to use the term,  “peer counseling” in her well known WRAP and her other manuals. Heck, even camp counselors use this term.  Lawyers, too! And many, many others! Then why do Peer Specialists need to do the same? 

As for me, I have very high expectations for the longevity in the profession of Peer Specialist. Since I am a Certified Peer Specialist, my hope is not only this occupation continues to grow, but my wish is that it gets fully recognized by leaders of the Department of Labor and the president. But this all begins with using one unified name, Peer Specialist. Dreaming perhaps, one day we will see a degree in Peer Specialists being learned and taught in colleges and universities by Peer Specialists and that it becomes a viable career path.  

For over twenty-five years, I have worked in the Mental Health Field. All of the names have changed several times and for the forcibly future, I see this happening more. It’s not the title that matters most to me, it is (was) the work that is actually accomplished means more. Unfortunately, due to my nerve damage that has limited me and hard to go to work, I still believe that a Peer is still valuable to the world. Whatever the name used.

See you in the NewsBlogs and Newsletters.

Howard Diamond is a Certified Peer Specialist from Long Island.

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