Peer Support Specialist Services

In November 2004, the Pennsylvania Recovery Workgroup generated the following definition of recovery to guide service system transformation in this state:

"Recovery is a self-determined and holistic journey that people undertake to heal and grow. Recovery is facilitated by relationships and environments that provide hope, empowerment, choices and opportunities that promote people reaching their full potential as individuals and community members."

In 2005, the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) gave full endorsement to the definition and committed to transforming our own mental health system which included the development of services that facilitate and support recovery. Peer Specialist Services have been defined in Pennsylvania as one of these services.

Defining Peer Support

Based upon the fundamental principles of recovery, Peer Support Services (PSS) are specialized therapeutic interactions conducted by self-identified current or former consumers of behavioral health services who are trained and certified to offer support and assistance in helping others in their recovery and community-integration process. Peer support is intended to inspire hope in individuals that recovery is not only possible, but probable. The service is designed to promote empowerment, self-determination, understanding, coping skills, and resiliency through mentoring and service coordination supports that allow individuals with severe and persistent mental illness and co-occurring disorders to achieve personal wellness and cope with the stressors and barriers encountered when recovering from their disabilities.

Peer support is designed on the principles of consumer choice and the active involvement of persons in their own recovery process. Peer support practice is guided by the belief that people with disabilities need opportunities to identify and choose for themselves their desired roles with regard to living, learning, working and social interaction in the community. For this reason, the agreement of the individual to receive services is critical.

On an ongoing basis, individuals receiving the service are given the opportunity to participate in and make decisions about the activities conducted. Services are self-directed and person centered with a recovery focus. PSS facilitate the development of recovery skills. Services are multi-faceted and include, but are not limited to, individual advocacy, education, development of natural supports, support of work or other meaningful activity of the individual's choosing, crisis management support, skills training, effective utilization.

Background of Peer Support Services in Pennsylvania

  • In 2003, OMHSAS committed to transforming the mental health system to include the development of services that facilitate and support recovery. Peer Specialist Services have been defined in Pennsylvania as one of these services.
  • In 2004, OMHSAS received a 3-year Mental Health Systems Transformation Grant award from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The grant provided for the development and refinement of a training curriculum and peer certification process known as the PA Peer Specialist Initiative (PSI).
  • On February 22, 2007, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) approved Pennsylvania’s Medicaid State Plan Amendment to include Peer Support Services as a component of rehabilitative services. This was accomplished through a broad partnership of individuals and organizations.
  • Continuing education trainings developed in collaboration with OMHSAS are available for Certified Peer Specialists who wish to specialize in working with priority populations such as older adults, forensics, veterans, youth, MH/ID, supported employment and crisis services.
  • In 2016 bulletin OMHSAS-16-12 was issued. The revised PSS bulletin and provider handbook pages allows youth 14 years of age but under 18 years of age who meet the admission criteria and want to receive PSS to be served by approved peer provider agencies.