In December of 2001 approximately thirty-five present and former mental health consumers completed their training and examination to become Georgia's first class of Certified Peer Specialists (CPSs).
Certified Peer Specialists are responsible for the implementation of peer support services, which are Medicaid reimbursable under Georgia's Rehab Option. They also serve on Assertive Community Treatment Teams (ACT), as Community Support Individuals (CSI) and in a variety of other services designed to assist the peers they are partnered with in reaching the goals they wish to accomplish in their personal recovery journeys.
A natural outgrowth of the 1999 Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health has been the realization of the value of peer-to-peer support in the acquisition of real recovery. Certified Peer Specialists provide hope and role model that possibility to every peer they are partnered with. As paid employees of our public and private mental health providers, CPSs neatly transition ownership of the program into the hands of their peers.
A portion of the Georgia Certified Peer Specialist Project is funded through a grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services. This federal grant is administered through the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network, in collaboration with the State Office of Consumer Relations and Recovery.
Key to the successful implementation of CPSs in service delivery roles in consumer-operated Peer Centers, in Peer Supports, on ACT teams and as CSI providers is the understanding of what creates recovery and how to build environments conducive to recovery. This role is not interchangeable with traditional staff that works from the perspective of their training and status as licensed health care providers. Certified Peer Specialists work from the perspective of "having been there." Through their lived experience with recovery, they lend unique insight into mental illness and what makes recovery possible.
The training and certification process prepares CPSs to promote hope, personal responsibility, empowerment, education, and self-determination in the communities in which they serve. Certified Peer Specialists are part of the shift that is taking place in the Georgia Mental Health System from one that focuses on the individual's illness to one that focuses on the individual's strength.
Recovery is no longer only about what clinicians do to consumers. It has become, with the assistance of CPSs, what peers do for themselves and each other. CPSs are trained to assist their peers in skills building, goal setting, problem solving, conducting Recovery Dialogues, setting up and sustaining mutual self-help groups, and in helping their peers build their own self-directed recovery tools, including the WRAP. A critical role is supporting peers in developing an IRRP that has their recovery goals and specific steps to obtain to reach those goals. Further requirements of certification include understanding the structure of the Georgia mental health system, client rights, cultural competency, confidentiality and the documentation requirements for progress notes that are monitored by APS Healthcare.