Five Core Competencies for Peer Support Workers

By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.

In the field of behavioral health services, peer support workers must be able to help others. To achieve this, they should master five core competencies, which are mostly clusters of skills, knowledge and character traits. These competencies enable peer support workers to successfully aid people recovering from mental health and substance abuse disorders.

For most recovery programs, the five core competencies we will discuss here are enough. However, if your program is more advanced, your peer support team members might need other specialized skills.

Five Traits of Successful Peer Support Workers

1. Person-centered

The client who is receiving help from peer workers is the most important part of the whole recovery program. The client is the person for whom the recovery program exists, and that’s precisely why peer support workers should be centered on the client’s personal goals and hopes for the recovery process.

2. Recovery-oriented

A peer support worker’s focus needs to be centered on the client’s individual and unique recovery needs. Recovery happens differently for each client; there is no one-size-fits-all plan.

3. Relationship-focused

The foundation of the recovery process is the relationship between the peer worker and the client they are helping. That relationship requires trust, respect, and empathy. It must also be mutual, or it will not be genuine and honest. All of this goes hand-in-hand with the first two competencies.

4. Trauma-informed

The peer support worker must be equipped to recognize trauma and create a framework for helping the client navigate through and beyond the trauma. That framework must emphasize emotional, psychological and physical safety, which will help the client begin to recover.

5. Intrinsically Motivated

It’s essential for peer workers not to see their work as merely a job. They must view themselves as partners and consultants to those clients they are helping.

The Bottom Line

By staffing your recovery programs with peer support workers who possess these core competencies, your nonprofit can increase your clients’ chances at successful recovery.

Here at Turnaround Life, Inc., we aim to help organizations and programs that make it possible for people to turn their lives around. For more information about us, visit our website.

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