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Peer Professionals Proving the Power of Vulnerability: The Elephant In Our Field

The Elephant in the Room

Time to talk about the elephant in the room.  It’s uncomfortable for most professionals to acknowledge, but everyone working in the field of mental health has a deep personal connection to mental health issues.  The few who are brave enough to embrace their personal stories offer special insights, and help others in our community find recovery as well.

In “The Power of Vulnerability“, Brené Brown makes a powerful (if paradoxical) point about embracing what we’re most ashamed of, rather than running from it.  In Indiana, peer recovery specialists have learned to help others by exposing their own vulnerabilities.  On a crusade against stigma, peer specialists like (Cummins’ own) Debbie Roman, Justin Beattey, Jason Grant Padgett, and Brandon George exemplify the power of humility and servant leadership in our community by sharing their own personal stories of recovery.    What exactly makes peers so effective–and why aren’t they used more in Indiana?

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.” 
―Brené Brown

Brene Brown giving a TED talk about The Power of Vulnerability
Brené Brown's TED Talk: "The Power of Vulnerability"

Peer-Based Recovery Supports Defined

A Peer-Based Recovery Support (PBRS) such as a Recovery Coach (CAPRC) or Certified Recovery Specialist (CRS) is an individual who uses lived experience to provide both hope and options for those experiencing severe addiction and/or mental health issues.  These individuals exemplify Brené Brown’s now classic TED Talk;  by openly discussing their own experiences with mental health, they’ve turned their perceived liability into their greatest strength.

A Peer serves as a companion and mentor in the early stages of recovery, identifying and connecting with local recovery mutual-aid societies in an effort to facilitate a self-directed shift from formal to informal supports and relationships.  At this time, Medicaid funding for credentialed specialists with lived experience is extremely limited, despite research proving their increased efficacy.

Debbie Roman:  In The Know

 “It isn’t work to me”, Debbie shrugs with a modest smile. “It’s my passion.”  Debbie is a great example of a peer recovery specialist, whose humility and openness makes recovery much more accessible for countless others.  She explains,

“We simply meet people where they’re at.  I see what we do as holding their hand and walking with them until they are strong enough to walk the rest of their journey on their own.  Peer Support is about empowering people to find their own healing, their way.  This is why people like peer programs in the first place

For a long time, Peer Recovery Specialists were rare in Indiana. Thanks partly to Justin Beattey, that is starting to change.  He and a few others have had some great ideas and have been pioneering increased utilization of peer specialists across the state.”  

Justin Beattey, Jason Grant Padgett on Embracing Vulnerability

Justin Beattey is project manager for the Indiana Association of Peer Recovery Support Services (IAPRSS).  Justin explains, “The first immediate barrier for those of us with substance use problems is the argument that ‘you don’t understand’.  Peer supports provide non-clinical services based on our own personal experiences.  Working with us, that initial barrier is torn down right away–Simply put, I DO understand because I’ve been there myself.  Justin also works with the IAIC to advocate statewide for peer-based recovery services.  

Jason Grant Padgett (pictured here with Phil Valentine and Nick Nagel)

Jason Grant Padgett is the Peer Support Supervisor at Tippecanoe Quick Response Team and a Certified Addictions Peer Recovery Coach at Home with Hope, Inc.  (He is also the former Director at Transforming Adolescents & Families in Indiana APG and at Grace United Methodist Church), Jason stresses that the most important thing is collaboration between the academic professionals and the peer professionals.  They complement each other, and both are fundamentally important to this field.  He explains, 

“What I would like to see personally–if you look back through the seventies, most treatment centers were once staffed entirely with people in recovery themselves.  That said, I think the clinical/academic side is definitely needed in this field as well.  A major barrier is the Medicaid billing issue, but the biggest obstacle is the stigma around mental health issues like these in the first place.  People with substance use disorders tend to wear it like a badge of honor, while the mental health side of the field is more shy and apprehensive.  Ultimately we need both sides to really address stigma.

The Upcoming Key Consumer Conference will be able to show some of the mounting evidence in support of the efficacy of peer recovery services.”

KEY Consumer Organization’s Annual Consumer Conference:  April 19th!

KEY Consumers’ Executive Director Sarah Gunther explains their peer-oriented nature,  “We’re a consumer-run organization, we are all consumers of mental health services here.” Cummins Behavioral Health Systems is pleased to announce it has partnered with KEY Consumer Organization to present their experience with the employment of peer recovery specialists through a series of workshops.

The keynote speaker at this year’s Key Consumer Conference is Brandon George, Director of Indiana Addiction Issues Coalition (IAIC).  As a person in long-term recovery himself, Brandon has dedicated his life (both personally and professionally) to fighting addiction and promoting recovery. His personal experience, education and professional accomplishments give him the perspective to see both sides of recovery.  The KEY Consumer Organization Annual Consumer Conference is coming up April 19, 2019. Call the office at 317-550-0060 or email officemgr@keyconsumer.org to request a registration packet.

The provider/administrative track will have break-out sessions focused on peer-providers working in mental health programs. This track will cover a host of material, including information about peer-providers in agency settings and management and supervision of peer-providers. The sessions will include Engagement and Connection: The Ultimate Value of Peer Support; Hiring Practices: Finding A Peer Support Specialist; Effective Supervision of the Peer Recovery Specialist: Support and Development to retain the Peer Workforce; and Ethics of Peer Recovery Services.

“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

―Brené Brown

Do you know a mental health professional who openly embraces personal experience with mental health struggles?  When we come together in the spirit of peer fellowship (to talk about the elephant in the room) we help make recovery possible for everyone in our community. Please acknowledge their efforts and bravery with your support by sharing this article!