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Certified Peer Support Specialists Rate Their Initial Training Highly But Could Use Continuing Education

July 1, 2024
Meg Brunner, MLIS
Adjabeng BK & de Saxe Zerden L. Assessing the training for certified peer support specialists who provide mental health and substance use services. Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research 2024;51(3):338-354.
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What's the Question?

Peer support services are provided by Certified Peer Support Specialists (CPSSs) or Peer Recovery Support Specialists (PRSS), people in recovery from serious mental health or substance use disorders who support people experiencing similar difficulties. CPSS and PRSS (hereafter, CPSS) draw on their lived experiences and training to provide hope and support while helping advocate for the best services to meet their clients’ needs.

In 2023, in response to a call from the Biden-Harris Administration to accelerate expansion of the peer workforce, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published the National Model Standards for Peer Support Certification, emphasizing the importance of building robust peer support programs across states. However, for an expanded CPSS workforce to be effective, it must also be adequately trained.

For this study, researchers wanted to get the perspective of peers themselves – do they feel their training sufficiently covers essential core competencies and adequately prepares them for the work they do?

How Was This Study Conducted?

This study looked at training for peer support certification using data from four states: North Caroline, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. 667 CPSS from these 4 states were surveyed using items that aimed to answer 3 overarching questions:

  1. Do more CPSS say their training was adequate compared to the number who say it was inadequate?
  2. What distinct subgroups can be identified based on CPSS’ responses to questions about the sufficiency of their training?
  3. What topics would be helpful in additional or continuing education for CPSS?

Demographics of Participants

Most of the 667 participants were White (72%), with the least number Asian (1%) and American Indian or Alaska Native (1%). Most were female (73%) and had completed “some college” or higher (83%). More than half (60%) were employed as a CPSS at the time of the survey and were, on average, in their mid-40s with an average of 4 years of CPSS experience

What Did Researchers Find Out?

  • Current training is sufficient for the vast majority. Most of the workforce (over 90%) felt prepared by their training to provide services, regardless of their state.
  • Two subgroups emerged related to SAMHSA’s Core Competencies for Peer Workers (2015): 88% felt their training had “sufficiently” covered the SAMHSA Core Competencies and 12% felt their training had “moderately” covered them. The only thing that predicted which group someone would fall into was whether or not they felt their peer training had prepared them sufficiently (those who did were twice as likely to also report that training had “sufficiently” covered the Core Competencies). No other factors (race, education, state of residence, etc.) were significantly associated with either group.
  • States should consider reciprocity agreements. Peers across all four states reported similar levels of satisfaction with their training, which suggests a CPSS trained in one state may not need recertification to work in another state, something that could help expand the workforce more quickly.
  • Continuing education and/or booster sessions are needed. Longer years of service was linked with a sense of inadequate training, suggesting that booster sessions and/or continuing education opportunities are needed.

What Are the Implications for the Workforce?

The findings from this study suggest that peers are open to and in need of booster training sessions or continuing education opportunities, something ATTC regional centers may be particularly interested in and well-suited to deliver.

These sessions should incorporate contemporary issues related to mental health and substance use disorders, and peers are particularly interested in the following topics:

  • trauma-informed care
  • motivational interviewing
  • innovative approaches to treatment (pathways to recovery)
  • ethics and boundaries
  • harm reduction strategies
  • suicide prevention

The least popular topics were non-clinical needs, like documentation and supervision.

Insights from this study will also help inform national policy, resource allocation, and practice guidelines to ensure successful expansion and oversight of the CPSS workforce.