What does a peer support specialist do?

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A peer support specialist is a guide to a person in recovery.  A peer support specialist uses his/her own lived experiences and training to help discover a path of recovery that will work best for the individuals they are working with. This path will be different for every individual, and it's the peer specialist's job to help the individual find that path. Here are examples of what a peer support specialist may do to support their clients.

  • Develop a continuing and supportive relationship with the individual
  • Meet the individual where they are at physically and mentally, and allow them to grow at a comfortable pace
  • Assist the individual in finding support groups and meaningful activities
  • Identify goals the individual would like to pursue, and assist in creating a plan to achieve these goals
  • Find activities with others in recovery
  • Navigate resources to help the individual find employment
  • Support the individual find housing and basic needs for living
  • Help the individual learn how to cope with feelings and emotions in healthy ways
  • Guide the individual to help them find purpose and meaning in a healthy life

This list is just some of the things a peer support specialist may do, but is by no means a complete list. It is up to the peer specialist to identify the ways that they can best support others in recovery, and to become healthy and productive members in society.  

What is a Peer Support Specialist?

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For people who are new to peer support specialists, there can be a lot of questions about who they are, what they do and how they help people find recovery. Here's a quick overview to help you understand the value of specialists.

  • Peer support specialists go by a few names in the recovery community; such as recovery coach and peer recovery specialist.
  • A peer support specialist is someone that is managing their Substance Use Disorder, and receives formal training. 
  • Peer support specialists are not sponsors of a 12 step program.  They are familiar with all paths of recovery and encourage their clients to use what works for them. 
  • Specialists work with their clients for a longer period of time than treatment counselors and can be used throughout the entire recovery continuum including pre-program.  
  • Peer support specialists are there to help navigate the barriers that people in recovery experience, and provide support and assistance on a variety of different levels.

Thank You Fargo

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Greg Tehven is someone to know. He’s a mover and shaker, and most importantly a connector. As the executive director of Emerging Prairie, he reached out to Recovree earlier this year and inquired about our interest in presenting at One Million Cups Fargo. I leaned on Greg to help make our trip multipurpose and connect with organizations from the recovery community while we were in town. Greg delivered - he used his social capital to make connections to leadership at Sanford Health, Prairie St. John’s and Recovery Reinvented. These key contacts led to additional introductions to F5 Project, Mayors' Blue Ribbon Commission on Addiction, First Step Recovery and Face It Together. The valuable connections would have taken us numerous hours and likely multiple trips to establish.

What happened in Fargo on Wednesday for Recovree was special. We were welcomed with open arms and had meaningful conversations with everyone we met. Most of our meetings ended with, "When are you coming back so that we can continue this discussion?"

Like any startup with hopes to grow and expand, it’s critical for Recovree to develop relationships and share our message outside of our own backyard. For local entrepreneurs, I strongly encourage you to explore the opportunities that Emerging Prairie offers including a unique One Million Cups and their Founders Only Retreat.

We’re looking forward to returning to Fargo and pick-up where we left off in finding collaborative ways to tackle substance use disorder. Thank you to the wonderful people who took time to connect with us, as well as the Emerging Prairie staff and Greg for an outstanding experience. We look forward to seeing you again on July 26 for TEDx Fargo!

The in-person update

In mid-January, during the heart of a snow storm, we convened eight talented and engaged stakeholders to share an update on Recovree. We invited 20 people to the meeting with the hope that half would attend. Even with the snow, we nearly achieved our goal!

The purpose of the meeting was to provide an update to early champions of the work that we’re doing and present the results of our recent pilots. ‘Updates’ are nothing new in the startup community. Entrepreneurs are savvy and have created efficient ways to leverage their networks and communities by sharing regular ‘update’ emails that can include recent milestones achieved and asks for help. It gets the word out quickly and to a targeted audience. We took the idea of the startup 'update' a step further, seeking deeper engagement from professionals that we trust. The results were nothing short of awesome.

Our in-person stakeholder update was initially used as a way to hold us accountable (and it did). We selected a date that came shortly after our pilots concluded and before conversations began with our software developers. It forced us to get timely feedback from our pilot partners and create an updated presentation to share with our stakeholders.

The people invited to the meeting represent multiple perspectives of the community that we’re operating in - from payers to providers to other healthcare startups. The different views and experiences created a dynamic conversation. People were building off of each other’s ideas and sharing more than would have been discussed in a one-on-one meeting.

Our fearless facilitator was Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas. Having a strong facilitator allowed us to move at “rabbit pace and avoid rabbit holes.” It also gave Luke and I a chance to focus on the questions and conversation versus taking frantic notes. Kari did an outstanding job of commanding the room, setting the tone and navigating the conversation to accomplish our goals. The goals that we outlined for the discussion were specific to our needs for the next 3-6 months.  

Recovree is working on assembling an advisory board. This was also a way to test our ideas on who would be a good fit for that role – what did they bring to the table, how did they challenge each other, etc.

My intent for this post was to share our experience and approach because the outcomes of the meeting were fantastic. Again, this isn’t something new and may not work for everyone. Hopefully it's a reminder that your community wants to engage – and there’s no substitute for bringing people together in person. It helped us strengthen relationships, collect numerous ideas, and update key champions on where we’re at and our plans to move forward. It also saved hundreds of miles on my Prius and hours in coffee shops bringing this group up-to-speed.  

In case you’re wondering what we presented in the update and how our pilots went, I’m happy to share that Recovree is moving quickly into software development. We’ve validated that there’s a demand for our product and that it’s helping people with their recovery. It's exciting and I'm thrilled that the journey continues.

Our founding story and a note of thanks for an incredible year

The idea for Recovree started in December 2016. It was family week at Luke’s treatment facility. Family week is an opportunity for family members to learn, share, cope and process what has and is happening with their loved one who suffers from substance use disorder. It was my first experience with family week. I remember feeling anxious. I had to write a letter to Luke sharing how his disease affects our relationship and how it made me feel.

Luke is my younger brother. We are very different but I think we appreciated our differences even as kids. He’s the smart, laidback and even-tempered sibling and I’m the busy, emotional and high energy type. Luke’s disease took hold of him in high school and progressed throughout his 20s. It was alcohol that nearly killed him but he was using numerous substances at the peak of his illness.

I learned a lot about substance use disorder at family day and how everyone’s experience with this disease is complex, frustrating, sad, tiresome, discouraging and overwhelming. No one wanted this disease, no one wants to be an addict. Luke and I read our letters to each other – I shared my frustrations, sadness and grievances and he shared his regret, apology and hope for the future. At that moment, I saw my brother again for the first time in many years. The mask of addiction was removed and I could see a kind and good person. The positive experience was quickly shadowed by the thought of how will Luke manage his disease outside of the treatment facility.

During visiting hours the following Sundays, Luke and I began discussing his aftercare and what was going to happen next. I brought surveys to his facility and asked Luke to distribute them to his peers. I wanted to know what he and his peers were feeling and what stressors they were anticipating upon their release from treatment.

Luke moved to St. Paul following his 45-day inpatient treatment to live in a sober house and begin an outpatient program. We met every week during his outpatient treatment to discuss new aftercare tools. Working with his outpatient peers, we focused on the patient experience.

Our MVP (minimum viable product) was tested in March 2017 with people at varying stages of recovery. We saw an engagement rate of 80 percent. The test users shared that Recovree made them 100 percent more aware of their daily emotions and experiences, and 85 percent said that Recovree contributed to their sobriety.

Over the next several months, we met with almost 100 people from the recovery community – health care providers, insurance companies, nonprofits, foundations and individuals.

In August, we began focusing on peer recovery specialists, the fastest growing service for people in recovery. Peer recovery specialists have firsthand experience with substance use disorder and can offer support and understanding for people with the disease. They receive training ­­on how to work with patients and can provide assistance to people who are at varying stages of recovery. We quickly recognized that peer recovery specialists could provide a level of accountability for the patients that we are trying to serve and are in need of new tools to support their relationships with their patients.

We’re currently testing Recovree with local treatment facilities to prove that our product improves engagement and outcomes for peer recovery specialists and their clients. 

It’s been a miraculous year to say the least. My brother has been sober for 13 months and we’ve found a community that shares our hopes and vision for people in recovery. We have discovered new purpose for our lives and are driven to create better outcomes for people who pursue treatment for substance use disorder.

A very sincere thank you to the numerous people who have spent time and energy working with us on Recovree. It’s been an exciting journey and we’ve met wonderful champions throughout the community. We appreciate you and are forever grateful for accepting us and supporting our dream.

We look forward to sharing more with you in the new year. Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones.

Best,
Melissa