When someone is working toward recovery from substance use disorder (or SUD), support from loved ones and treatment professionals is a must. In particular, behavioral health workers like therapists, counselors and life skills specialists can offer invaluable guidance and assistance for anyone who is working to overcome addiction. However, sometimes a recovering person can benefit most from the support of an individual who has their own lived experience with SUD.
This is where peer recovery support services can be helpful. Peer recovery support services (also called “peer recovery services” or “peer support services”) are behavioral health services that supplement clinical treatment for substance use disorder. These services are delivered by peer recovery coaches or peer recovery specialists, individuals who are themselves in long-term recovery from substance use. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, peer recovery services have been shown to improve relationships with treatment providers, increase satisfaction with treatment, decrease criminal justice involvement, reduce relapse rates, and improve access to social supports.
In a nutshell, peer recovery support adds to SUD treatment services by extending care beyond the doors of a clinical facility. Peer recovery coaches rely on shared understanding and respect to support their clients’ recovery on an informal, day-to-day basis. In many cases, a peer may serve as a bridge to other individuals and supports that can help a person stay invested in their recovery for the long term.
As a strong advocate of peer recovery services, Cummins Behavioral Health has been working with the Indiana Association of Peer Recovery Support Services (or IAPRSS) to promote their implementation throughout our state. In this blog post, we speak with IAPRSS Director Justin Beattey about what his organization does and how it’s working to improve peer recovery services throughout Indiana.
Justin Beattey and IAPRSS: Advocates for Peer Recovery Support in Indiana
Justin Beattey isn’t an advocate for peer recovery support just because it sounds good on paper; on the contrary, he has witnessed the good it can do firsthand.
“I am a person in long-term recovery from mental health concerns, substance use issues and the criminal justice system,” Beattey explains. “I’ve had several go-arounds with treatment since I was a teenager. All of my engagements with treatment were very provider-focused, by which I mean the provider pretty much told me, ‘This is what you need to do.’ My last go-around with treatment was when I connected with peer support, and that was the first time I ever had anyone ask me, ‘What do you want to do, and how do I help you do that?’ “
IAPRSS works to advance the profession of peer recovery support in two main ways: by supporting peer professionals as well as the organizations that employ them. For peer recovery coaches and specialists, this primarily means providing professional development assistance and community support. “For example, we have a once-a-month peer professional support group for peers to get together and talk about their profession and what’s going on in their work,” Beattey says. “And we also meet with peers individually to help them map out how they want to grow professionally—how to strengthen current skills and where to make improvements.”
For behavioral health organizations, IAPRSS provides varying levels of consultation related to peer recovery support services. “Sometimes it’s helping an organization figure out policy and procedure, plan out workflow, create job descriptions, advertise those jobs—everything related to building out that program,” Beattey says. “For other organizations, it’s just talking through what ideas they have and what other organizations are doing.”
According to Beattey, one of IAPRSS’ primary goals is to improve the quality of all peer recovery services provided across the state:
“We want to help ensure that consistency is provided throughout Indiana, because a lot of organizations have kind of had their own understanding of peer support. Some organizations really understand it, and others don’t so much just because they haven’t been educated on it. We’ve been able to use organizations like Cummins as examples of what good, robust peer recovery programs should look like, and also how to properly support peers through effective supervision.”
How IAPRSS and Cummins Are Raising the Bar for Peer Recovery
As Beattey hinted at above, one of the prevailing issues with the peer recovery profession is a lack of standardization across different organizations and programs. Because there are no external regulations on peer recovery services, organizations that provide peer services are left to determine their own guidelines and best practices. In response, IAPRSS has been working to develop universal standards to help all peer recovery support programs effectively serve their clients.
“We used a grant from Indiana’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction to create a peer infrastructure advisory board for the state,” Beattey explains. “We gathered a lot of industry leaders and created a ‘think tank,’ for lack of better wording, and one of the things we did is create some standardized documentation.” These include ready-to-use guidelines covering professional standards for peer recovery coaches, supervision of peer recovery professionals, and ethical standards for peer recovery support services.
Once these standards were agreed upon and documented, Beattey and IAPRSS made sure to get the word out in the peer recovery community. Beattey says, “We worked throughout the state doing town hall discussions about peer recovery support to get the community as a whole educated on what peers are—that they’re not sponsors, they’re not counselors or therapists, they’re just people who are going to provide person-centered recovery support based on the individual’s needs. And what was more important than just creating standards was making sure we educated the community on them.”
Throughout the whole process, IAPRSS has collaborated closely with Cummins and other behavioral health organizations that are operating successful peer recovery programs. This process has been invaluable for determining best practices of peer recovery support, as Beattey explains:
“It’s been incredibly important for us to maintain regular communication with behavioral health providers to have real-time updates on what’s happening in the peer support profession. Cummins has been a great partner, because they have had no qualms about reaching out to me and letting me know what’s working well for them. This provides us with real-life examples, so rather than saying, ‘We think this is how peer support should be done,’ we’ve been able to say, ‘Well, this is what’s working great at Cummins, or this is what’s not working great at Cummins—this is what needs clarification.’ And that has helped me advocate for peer support services with other organizations, because I can say that it’s not just IAPRSS thinking this, it’s Cummins thinking this, as well.”
At Cummins Behavioral Health, we believe strongly in the value of peer recovery support services for individuals who struggle with substance use disorder. We are thrilled to be working with IAPRSS and doing our part to help peer recovery support services grow and flourish throughout Indiana!
If you’d like to learn about some of the other addiction treatment services that Cummins BHS provides, we recommend reading our blog posts on virtual IOT and adolescent IOT below!