Becoming a Certified Peer Specialist

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Years ago, when I was at my lowest dealing with anxiety and depression, I couldn’t imagine doing the things I am now. An autism diagnosis came later in life as well after a doctor noticed that the current medication regimen wasn’t panning out and referred me to get tested for ASD, rather than just try a plethora of new medications. After that, I was linked with community-based supports and groups that allowed me to grow in ways that I didn’t think was possible. I can look at my life and see that I’m living rather than just surviving. It’s because of those resources and my own will power that I decided to take a new step and become a CPS (Certified Peer Specialist).

A Certified Peer Specialist is someone with lived experience with mental illness, substance use or a combination of the two. These are individuals who personally model wellness and want to give back and support others dealing with an array of diagnoses. The capacity for empathy extends beyond one’s own personal experiences to relate with others. A person doesn’t have to be certified to be a peer supporter or advocate. The training to become a CPS just adds more tools to a person’s belt in order to interact with other peers more effectively. For example, I learned how to assist someone making their own WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan),

Lived experience is valuable when it comes to establishing a connection with others. A CPS navigated through the mental health care system and can help another peer prepare questions for a doctor at their next appointment. I know first hand that seeing a doctor can be imposing, also there isn’t a lot of time to spend with a doctor either. So planning out questions to ask with a peer can help someone make the most of their appointment.

The role of a CPS is one of a mental health liaison, connecting a peer with services. One man isn’t an island and linked mental health care creates lasting wellness for those it can serve. Certified Peer Specialists have proven integral as they help others not fall through the cracks. And I can’t help but mention the aspect of personal experience again as well because it forges trust with those you’ll be working with. Establishing that professional rapport empowers a client to decide options that they determine for themselves. A CPS is a supporting role.

I definitely learned a lot during the course of my training to become a Certified Peer Specialist. It was challenging but also rewarding. I found the information that I obtained to be vital. My classmates, from diverse backgrounds, allowed me to glimpse into their own lives and their own progress. They like me decided to give back and to help others. That’s something to be commended. I’m also happy to see movement within the mental health field to incorporate peer specialists into treatment teams. Getting my CPS is just one step into many. I have much to learn and much to contribute and I will always try to do my best for those that I will be serving now and into the future.


Ziggy is a Certified Peer Specialist in PA and currently resides in Pittsburgh. He is a member of the Let’s Act committee, a group of peers devoted to raising awareness about mental health care. In his downtime, he enjoys reading novels and watching nature documentaries.

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