Reading the headline “In Texas, People with Mental Illness Find Work Helping Peers” my mind flashed to Recovery coaches and peer mentors — known in Alcoholics Anonymous as “sponsors”. These individuals have helped those addicted to alcohol or drugs for decades. Since mental health professionals are in short supply though, the idea to expand peer support for people with serious mental illness left me with serious doubt. I curled up in my chair to read the article… “In Texas, more than 900 people have gone through the statewide certification process provided by the nonprofit organization Via Hope. The training requires 43 hours over five days and covers topics such as ethics, effective listening, the role of peer support in recovery and using your personal story as a recovery tool. The certification is valid for two years, and a person needs to earn continuing education credits to renew their certification. Peer specialists are employed by community mental health clinics and state hospitals.” This is not enough training when it comes to dealing with someone who is experiencing auditory or visual hallucinations, someone who is in a deep depression state, someone is suicidal or having suicidal thoughts, or some who is engaging in self-harm. This level of mental illness calls for a psychiatrist licensed clinical social worker such as myself . I graduated from one of the best schools in the country. I am qualified to diagnose and treat a mentally ill person (Even Texas state figured that out). My graduate program provided extensive classroom training, and I chose two intense practicums where I racked up over a thousand hours of clinical experience. Post graduate school I had go through a plethora of clinical steps and supervision, which you can read about in this post. Those years of training are necessary to learn and to equip yourself with the tools to help someone who suffers from a severe mental illness.
Zahniser said, “One of the problems with mental health is we’ve learned how to keep people ‘stable’ on their medications and get them out of the hospital. But recovery is about having a life in the community, and peer services are often focused on those things. How do you get your life back?” I agree with Zahniser, medication is not a hundred percent of the answer. Those who struggle with mental illness need tools and talk therapy to help them return to their base line, so that they can live their best possible life. Medication always leaves me wondering, “Why we are NOT treating the whole person?”. This can only be done through a trained therapist. A peer can only show you what they have learned to cope, where an educated licensed professional is equipped with the skill set that can be fine-tuned to help an individual. What a peer can offer is friendship, agreement to become a part of one’s support system, and leading by example. Peers are often the ones who can connect fastest and persuade people who are suspicious of doctors to seek help- helping them to accept treatment. That I can get behind, and only that, for I fear those who have worked well to maintain their own mental health and wellness may be triggered by someone who has yet to learn to control their own.