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 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!  

How One Indianapolis Police Officer Is Fighting Teenage Substance Abuse

How Indianapolis Police Officer Chase Lyday Is Fighting Teenage Substance Abuse

For many people, the temptations of tobacco, drugs and alcohol first rear their ugly heads during adolescence.  Unfortunately, this is precisely when we are most susceptible to falling under their influence.  Although teenage drug use and substance abuse have seen encouraging downward trends in recent years, they remain serious health risks for high-school aged children in America.

The 2018 Monitoring the Future Survey, conducted every year by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found moderate rates of substance use among 12th graders across the country:

  • 58.5% had used alcohol at some point in their life, and 30% used alcohol in the past month
  • 24% had ever smoked a cigarette, and 30% reported consuming nicotine via vaping
  • 6% used marijuana daily, and 7.5% consumed marijuana via vaping in the past month
  • 12.4% used illicit drugs other than marijuana in the past year

In response to the threat tobacco, drugs and alcohol pose to young people, a number of central Indiana organizations are working to combat teenage substance abuse and help set youth down a better path in life. One such organization is doing this by nurturing strong community and familial ties and providing drug users with treatment instead of punishment.

Strengthening Families with the Decatur Township Drug-Free Coalition

“Most of the things that we do in the community are things that high school students and middle school students can participate in, and adults as well. We really try to provide opportunities for families to serve together,” says Chase Lyday, Executive Director of the Decatur Township Drug-Free Coalition.

As an Indiana State School Resource Officer for the Decatur Township School Police Department, Chase Lyday has witnessed firsthand the drug-related struggles that teens face. Wanting to do more for his community, he founded the Decatur Township Drug-Free Coalition to help keep local youth from the harms of drug use.

“Our mission is to prevent and reduce drug use among youth by strengthening families and collaborating with community resources,” Lyday says. A large part of this mission is accomplished through free community events, which give students and parents the opportunity to learn about drug use prevention and grow together as a family.

The Coalition also leverages its presence in schools to provide drug prevention education in the classroom. Students are then asked to discuss what they learned with their parents, providing another opportunity to develop family bonds.

“The last program that we have kicked off this year is a social/emotional learning curriculum for all of our kids in kindergarten through eighth grade. That is a tremendous tool that we have to teach kids how to have social competencies to repel drug use. But also, we partner with parents in that initiative by sending home discussion guides for the parents to be able to engage in some of those discussions with their kids,” Lyday says.

Emphasizing Treatment, Not Punishment

Chase Lydel, Indianapolis police department officer, speaks to a captive audience as the executive director of the decatur township drug free coalition
““At our coalition meetings, we will have volunteer opportunities for people to participate.”


Too often, a child or teen who admits to struggling with substance abuse is faced with punishment. They may be kicked off their sports team, suspended from school or even expelled. This encourages students to keep quiet, which only prevents them from receiving the help they need.

The fact is that substance abuse is frequently the result of underlying emotional problems. In a recent survey, the Decatur Township Drug-Free Coalition asked 564 students what they thought was the biggest reason some high school students abuse drugs, and the results were telling: 64% said to escape their mood or feelings, and another 56% said to deal with anxiety.

“With our coalition, we’ve even started an alternative to arrest program,” Lyday says. “Some of our kids that have mental health needs or social and emotional needs, instead of arresting them, we send them to a program where they can serve with us, get connected with the communities and school social workers that we have, and get connected with some of our school resource officers. We really try to come around them and build them up rather than shun them or punitively arrest them, or kick them out of school.”

Bringing in Help from Mental Health Organizations

“Right now is an exciting time for school-based services,” says Stephanie Whiteside of Cummins Behavioral Health Systems, citing increased mental health funding and proactive state legislation.

One of the Decatur Township Drug-Free Coalition’s partners in its initiatives is Cummins Behavioral Health Systems, which provides school-based mental health services in over 150 schools across central Indiana. Cummins works alongside the Coalition in cases where therapy is the right treatment solution for a student battling substance abuse.

“We provide behavioral health services,” explains Stephanie Whiteside, Director of School-Based Operations for Marion County. “Within the schools, the home, and the community, we provide traditional therapy services for a wide range of mental health needs. We also provide skills training like coaching and modeling so kids can develop better skills for decision making.”

Like Lyday’s Coalition, Cummins strives to involve parents in their children’s mental health issues and treatment. This includes providing education about mental health disorders and access to resources for families strapped by time or money. “A lot of the areas we work in are families that are stretched to the limit,” Whiteside says.

Together, the Decatur Township Drug-Free Coalition and Cummins Behavioral Health Systems are working to empower families, build supportive communities and reduce substance abuse among our youth. If you’d like to help, you can get in contact with the Coalition through its website or its increasingly popular Facebook page.

Working together with the decatur township

Indiana State Representative Wendy McNamara has pushed for legislation providing increased resources like these for schools.  She reports that, “Its important for people to understand that teachers and schools cannot do this alone.  We need every tool available to help students in need.”  Wendy also recommends reading the Governors Task Force on School Safety Report from Aug 2018. Learn more about these legislative efforts here.


Wendy, along with Cummins sincerely thank Chase Lyday and Stephanie Whiteside for their dedication to helping our kids!