Like many certified community behavioral health clinics in Kansas, Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center offers many support services to clients. One of the newest supplemental services is certified peer support.
“We give them hope,” explained Laura Roberts, certified peer support specialist for SEKMHC. “When they see someone in stable recovery, it gives them the faith they can do that, too.”
Laura has been in recovery from alcoholism, depression, and other diagnoses for over 16 years. “I started doing so well, my therapist kicked me out,” she said. But, it wasn’t an easy road. Along the way, Laura had her ups and down, and she is now able to share her story without breaking down about it.
Certified peer support specialists have lived experience of mental health challenges, themselves. They’ve been there and know how it feels. They know how difficult, yet rewarding, recovery is. They provide an extra layer of support to clients who are already receiving services (therapy and, usually, case management) from SEKMHC. To be involved in the program, a referral from a therapist is necessary.
Meeting a few times a week to as often as daily, depending on the client’s needs, Laura helps clients work on goals and gives them a place to vent. When she spends time with clients, they work on any number of things, including:
- building interpersonal relationship skills
- managing anxiety
- reducing codependency
- seeking additional resources
- building problem-solving skills
- establishing ways to cope with difficult situations.
“The list goes on,” said Laura. “But, you get the idea.”
Peer Support Role
“Our job as peer support specialists is to give people another outlet for support – and, another avenue to reach success,” commented Laura. “While my clients may think we’re only exercising, running to the pharmacy, or playing a card game, we’re actually doing a lot more. We’re helping them make friends, get out of the house, and gain some confidence in themselves. Every interaction we have helps remind them of their goals.”
According to Laura, one of the most important parts of their relationships with their clients is to give them extra support between their therapy appointments. Clients benefit from a positive influence that encourages them to do the work that their therapist lines out for them in their treatment plans.
SEKMHC’s peer support program also includes group meetings (also known as psychosocial groups). Right now, groups focus on empowerment, anger management, and mindfulness/resilience, among a few other topics. During meetings, group members usually share about their experiences during the week (or month) since their last meeting. They may review the last meeting’s “lesson” and compare how they did with their “homework.” Then they move on to the new lesson of the day. Groups usually wrap up with snacks and a game or craft activity. Some groups have well-established attendance, while others have members who pop in and out, as needed. As of now, groups meet in Pleasanton, Garnett, and Iola.
In Kansas, peer support specialists are certified through a process that involves intensive training and examinations. They’re required to be informed about behavioral health recovery and prepared to follow through on methods of assistance that will lead to optimum results. Some parts of the training are self-paced and expected to take extensive time to complete. However, SEKMHC’s peer support specialists breezed through the courses and couldn’t wait to start meeting with clients.
Currently, SEKMHC employs three certified peer support specialists: Laura Roberts, Shelly Ferguson, and Lea Ann Davenport.
While each day on the job may have rewards and challenges, Laura said that her favorite times are when clients use what she’s modeled or suggested to make new friends or accomplish a new goal. “One of my clients has met up with some others to get a board game group together. When we first met, she would have never moved out of her comfort zone to find others to spend time with. I love it when I can see my clients become able to build relationships outside of our initial mental health group,” said Laura, with a smile. “It’s a great feeling to know that we’ve been a part of that!”
To learn more about the peer support program, call Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center at 866-973-2241.