Useful Definitions for Peer Support Specialists

 Peer Support Specialist Certification Office
SCDMH Office of Consumer Affairs

Self Help

Self Help is the process of relying on one’s personal resources and contacts, and not solely the traditional medical community, for information and support about health concerns.  With self help, you come to cultivate and rely on your own network of consumer contacts who have successfully gone through many of the same things you are going through.   You gain information and support from these people. You come to realize that your have inner strength and unique abilities. You see where others have managed to get through the kinds of situations you find yourself in.

Using self help, you become accustomed to making informed decisions on your own, and not relying on a professional or “higher” authority to understand what is true or possible.  A good example is a person who searches out a therapy group on a subject (trauma, as an example) that may not be available at the mental health center and also finds information about trauma in the library or on the Internet. 

A person who believes in self help finds peace in following up on their instincts and their heart in matters related to health concerns until they get what they need.

Self Improvement

Self improvement is a broad goal that people in recovery often take on.  It refers to personal efforts at making aspects of one’s life better, especially if there are things missing in their life that might impede progress toward recovery.  For instance, a person might want to work toward going back to school as a way of overcoming feelings of low self esteem.  A person might embrace a plan to join an exercise group and to have healthy meals with friends, as a way to raise one’s energy levels and take less medication. A self improvement goal is usually not clinical, nor specific to a diagnostic category, but rather holistic in nature and related to life traditionally out side of the mental health service system.

Recovery Role Modeling

Recovery role modeling occurs when a person self identifies as having a mental illness and then demonstrates recovery by sharing their life story.   This action reinforces their belief that things have worked out for them,  People who tell their recovery stories demonstrate they were able to learn about medications, cope with side effects, stigma, and all the associated disruption that disability brings.  Eventually, they are able to successfully pursue and achieve their life’s goals.  Ike Powell showcases the phenomenon of recovery role modeling in the peer support specialist training segment: “I am a walking miracle!”

Individual Advocacy

Individual advocacy occurs when a person stands up and represents the requests of a person to someone in the system who might not have understood what was being asked or who simply hadn’t heard the request. As an example, a client may want to try a certain medication but his case manager doesn’t want to make a change.  The certified peer support special would work to understand the client’s request and the motivation behind it.  He would strive to understand why his request is not being honored, and suggest ways to help get the client’s request heard.  The peer support specialists would also level with the client as to why he is being successful or unsuccessful based on his own experience as a consumer and a staff person.  Additional dialogue might focus on what the client might do in the future to be a better self advocate.

Individual Mediation 

Individual mediation occurs when the peer support specialist attempts to resolve conflict between the client and another person, with the system or with an outside organization.  A good example of this would be a landlord dispute.  The certified peer support specialist might also try to access local professional mediation services on behalf of the client.  There may be opportunities for the certified peer support specialist to take training in the area of alternative dispute resolution techniques and practices.

Systems Advocacy/Systems Improvement

Systems advocacy/systems improvement occurs when the certified peer support specialist enlists clients to provide input to decision-makers about services for the purposes of program evaluation and making service improvements.  Another term for this is participatory action research (PAR).  It might involve clients surveying other clients, or hosting and participating in focus groups.  The outcome of such activity is greater consumer empowerment.  Consumers realize that they have the power to have their voice heard and to bring about changes in the system.  As an example, the DMH systems are struggling with the backup of clients in emergency waiting rooms.  What a peer support specialist would do is to make consumers part of the solution to this situation, rather than the problem.  She might host a series of community forums during program hours planned and run for and by consumers to get input from other consumers about how they are managing to avoid using the emergency rooms.  This list could then be shared with other consumers and with the broader system of care.  They might brainstorm as to how they could help solve this dilemma in their local communities and plan how to take action on their own or with others.


Wellness is a term used to describe a level of health in one’s life that is positive and holistic - taking into account a mind-body-spirit perspective. The wellness term is counter to the medical community’s emphasis on medications and compliance.  For mental health consumers, wellness is the goal of all interventions, even if a cure is not possible. Wellness is a concept goal similar to recovery and can also be described as a life journey, a way of being and living happy.

Boundary Setting

Boundary setting is a popular skill with mental health consumers because once they get good at it, it can really help to enhance their relations with other people and to cut down on taking too much on in one’s own life.  A certified peer support specialist will be trained to host group discussions about boundaries.  They can also work one to one with a person on the subject of boundary setting (and breaking) and improving relations with the people in their lives.

Human Appreciation

Human appreciation is an overt demonstration of the appreciation and joy we feel for being alive.  This is an egalitarian approach for singing the praises of people.  It’s celebratory and non-judgmental.  It’s about helping people to feel good about the here and now.


Adventure is a legitimate, therapeutic intervention which takes the client outside of his safety zone and challenges him to survive and interact with people in new and creative ways.  Examples of adventure interventions include wilderness camps and ropes courses.  At DMH the Palmetto Pride Recovery Retreat experience could be called adventure therapy.  The outcomes of such approaches include confidence building, increases in perceived control of one’s destiny, and hope for the future.

Personal Fulfillment

Personal fulfillment has to do being able to assign meaning to one’s life experience. It’s that sense or feeling that you are all that you can be and you are happy with whom you are.  Personal fulfillment has much to do with enrichment through relationships with people and one’s higher power or God.  It has to do with reaching a point of calm and contentment as to one’s place and purpose in the world.

The Helper Principle

The Helper Principle occurs when helping other people, one’s own burdens in life lift or at least is mitigated.  Many people with disabilities report that this is why they volunteer or work within their own disability group.  They also report that seeing or helping people better or worse off than themselves helps them to be positive and to appreciate their own situation.  By helping in the field they have an opportunity to see people who are modeling a level of recovery which they can aspire to as well.  Being involved in a helping field also keeps one abreast of medical advances and basic recovery-related  information.

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