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Peer support has been occurring naturally for a very long time in many unique ways. Whether it is in the form of several friends gathering to play dominoes and commiserate about aches and pains, a grieving widow being comforted by another who has also lost a spouse, or a person attending a 12-step meeting, there are endless examples of the healing power of sharing lived experiences with one another. Mental health and substance use programs have further developed such powerful exchanges of support, leading to the peer workforce.

Due to the evolution and growth of the peer workforce, many options now exist to learn how to use one’s recovery story and experience, as well as other tools, in a more systematic fashion in order to offer hope and support to others. This generally involves attending a training and then taking and passing an exam that measures mastery of specific competencies. With this evolution, many states now include peer support as a Medicaid billable service. For those states, training and certification process are now a requirement. Ideally, training also ensures that peer specialists have the complementary skills to work well as partners with other team members, including clinicians.

The peer workforce has evolved greatly over the years. Larry Fricks, Director of the Appalachian Consulting Group and Deputy Director of the SAMHSA-HSRA Center for Integrated Health Solutions operated by the National Council for Behavioral Health, is a forefather of the peer support movement. In this interview, Larry shares his experiences, perspectives, and some inspiration as the movement continues to evolve. Watch the interview.

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