Stop Discounting Our Workforce!
We Need to Be Treated as Valued Members of the Team
Peer refers to someone who has lived experience in a given area. The peer approach uses person-centered language and strategies to meet the individual where they are and assist to achieve self-directed goals.
However, peer workers are viewed as second-class citizens to their counterparts with formal education. The traditional medical model approach used by our co-workers deals primarily with the illness or disease/dysfunction being presented. This is not the peer approach.
Difficult life-circumstances do not discriminate between those with formal education or not. The peer workforce is a group of qualified individuals that bring a new level of skill to various communities at an obscenely lower value.
The stigma placed on people who have dealt with forensic activity, mental illness, and/or substance abuse make it difficult for peers to provide services to their communities.
Having been exposed to chaos and still being able to recover one’s life is a talent that should be respected. I have achieved a masters in social work while experiencing life’s challenges yet I am not allowed to utilize my advanced skills to aid with the healing process because I hold the title of peer specialist.
I am constantly asked not to apply my multitude of talents because they are beyond the scope of the position. On many occasions, however, all my skill-sets are called upon to handle the difficult situations.
One part of me says to disclose my circumstances for the betterment of the recoverees. The other side says I’m not supposed to share that information; that it is not relevant to the treatment plan.
I believe all facets of me contribute to the service I provide. To know that my sacrifices and dedication to my chosen craft is diminished and sullied because I experienced a life-altering event is more damaging than the event I’m recovering from.
I’m challenged daily to maintain my recovery status. My presence in a meeting with established clinical staff should not be diminished based on my surviving a traumatic event such as losing a loved one; or having a physical disability that altered my perception of self; or something as simple as making a bad judgment call and serving my debt to society.
My recovery status should be celebrated in some form. Instead, my reputation and character are tarnished in a way that is undeserved. Why should the merits of a peer be gauged so differently?
In most markets, the acquired life-skills and the desire to help others is undervalued. There is usually limited opportunity for growth for peers within an organization and less genuine support to aid in our humanitarian endeavor.
The demand for peers is being generated by new funding streams, but they do not offer the worker with advanced credentials and marketable skills the ability to grow or showcase their talents. To be granted an entry-level position with no chance for advancement is a frustrating predicament.
The services we offer to recoverees is crucial on so many levels. Peers offer support from a different perspective, providing empathy, wisdom, strength, and knowledge of multiple systems from personal and professional experience.
Peers equip, educate, and empower recoverees to help them establish a healthier worldview, view of themselves and of their community in order to move forward.
Imagine walking into a workshop and the facilitator says in his opening remarks that your colleagues, established clinical staff, should be concerned that the peers on your team will be some of their biggest headaches.
Imagine being told that there is no job security because no one knows if your agency will get the funding back for your position. The grant specifically states that a peer has to be hired, regardless of qualifications.
Certification is not mandated, yet it is preferred—not because of your skills—but because of your title. The thought is that the employer can teach you whatever they need you to do even if it is out of the scope of service. Some employers abuse peer-talents and abilities without adequate compensation or acknowledgment.
We are not looking for any special recognition. To be a peer means handling your own self-care and helping others stay on their recovery journeys too. We deserve the respect that our special knowledge brings to the position, equity in pay-scale, and career ladders to encourage peers to feel supported and acknowledged in their chosen career.
The frontline staff are going into uncharted territories with little support, which has its frustrations and rewards. Our work is freely done daily because We Are Peers!
Pullout: ‘We deserve the respect that our special knowledge brings to the position, equity in pay-scale, and career ladders to encourage peers to feel supported and acknowledged in their chosen career.’