Day in and day out, this is the role of the Our Space Peer Support Specialist – empathetically walking in someone else’s shoes. But it goes even deeper than that. It starts with an innate understanding of what someone is struggling through, not because they have read it in a book or observed it in a classroom setting, but rather because it is at the core of who they once were, because they have been in those shoes themselves – they have lived that life and traveled that road.
The Our Space Peer Support model utilizes individuals with lived experience, walking alongside a consumer who has not yet journeyed as far down the road to recovery. The Peer Support Specialist uses their personal lived experience to demonstrate hope and success. According to Our Space Peer Support Specialist, Jessica Burns, it is a holistic approach utilizing mind, body and spirit. It is a ‘do with, not for’ mindset. “We meet them, without judgement, where they are in their recovery journey, and work to build skills and goals based on their personal needs. We work alongside our peers to remind them what they are capable of, instead of doing the work for them.”
A Holistic Approach
While the Our Space model is holistic and not clinical in nature, Peer Support Specialists often guide the consumer through all aspects their recovery journey. According to Jennifer Buer, Our Space Direct Service Manager, “our role is often to be an advocate for them as they work through the system. Sometimes the consumers we work with don’t understand their rights or where to find services. We are there to point them in the right direction and help get their needs met. We aren’t just sitting in a room talking about their issues, we go out and walk through the steps with them.” This might mean helping the consumer navigate public transportation by riding along; or finding a therapist that will meet their specific needs, and even going to appointments with them until they are comfortable on their own. “We take the initiative to find the right person for the consumers we work with because we have taken the time to get to know them, and we understand what will work for their specific situation.”
The role of the Peer Support Specialist is as varied as the consumers they serve. One day they might help with budgeting, navigating the grocery store, or developing other life skills; and another might entail mediating between the consumer and a clinician, attending a scheduled visitation with their children, or helping them connect with the appropriate resources for their current condition (housing, doctors, case workers, court officials, etc.). “Peer Support Specialists have to be adaptable, so consumers are supported as well as engaged, while also providing the extra mental and emotional support they need,” Jessica notes.
Peer Support in a Pandemic
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, mental health has received on-going prominence in media. And, while many agencies and clinicians have not resumed face-to-face meetings with patients or clients, the Our Space Peer Support Specialists continue to serve consumers where they are. “Clients went from being surrounded by a support system to isolation, with only virtual contact.” Jessica notes. While Peer Support Specialists were virtual during the early days of the pandemic, they have been back in the field, using appropriate precautions, for several months. “Our Peer Support Specialists are some of the only providers seeing clients face-to-face right now. This makes us an even more integral part of the consumer’s team because we are with them on a weekly basis,” she adds.
Jessica, who has a client load of 18 consumers, sees an average of 10-15 individuals each week and up to 60 each month. “I have had to stay on top of all the latest changes with community and provider support, while also offering my consumer the extra mental and emotional stability they need right now. In uncertain and unreliable times, the Our Space Peer Support Specialists have managed to be the one thing that the consumer can count on…even when everything around them is changing so rapidly.”
Check out Part 2 to hear the stories of three individuals who have benefited from the Peer/Consumer relationship