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Peer support leads new recovery initiatives

April 15, 2012
by Nick Zubko, Associate Editor
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The development of the peer workforce is becoming a driving force in mental health and substance abuse treatment. In fact, the role of the “passive consumer” might just be a thing of the past.

That was one of the key ideas set forth by Paolo Del Vecchio, acting director of SAMHSA'a Center for Mental Health Services, during a presentation called “The Future of Recovery: Consumers to the Fore” given at the 2012 National Council Conference & Expo.

“One of the most exciting today is the changing role from us simply being passive consumers of services to being active and valued providers of care,” explained Del Vecchio. “It’s really the development of a brand new workforce, a whole new profession in mental health.”

The growing group of “self-acknowledged consumers” are known by a variety of names, including peer specialists, recovery coaches, and family support providers.

But regardless of what they’re called, Del Vecchio said these individuals are “leading the revolution” and making fundamental differences in how behavioral healthcare is done.

In addition, he acknowledged the importance of peer support and building key relationships, pointing out that "recovery occurs in the context of relationships."

Developing effective relationships is where peers can come into play, Del Vecchio explained, adding that those relationships (which include providers, peers, or family members) are serving more and more as the "incubator" of what helps clients recover.

“Peers can play an incredible role in helping establish those kinds of trust-based, healing relationships," he said.

Del Vecchio also described SAMHSA’s “four dimensions” of recovery. In addition to health, home and purpose, he says people also need “supportive relationships, peer and family support, and welcoming, inclusive communities.”