Q+A: Peer Recovery Specialist Training with Chris

Peer support is the fastest growing service for people in recovery, but for those how are new to the field, there are still questions surrounding the service. Who are peer specialists? What does training entail? How do they help those in recovery? We sat down with Chris Falck, a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist with Minnesota Recovery Connection, to learn more about peer specialists and the training they receive.

Q: What makes a Peer Recovery Support Specialist different from a sponsor or counselor?

A: Recovery coaches are not sponsors or addiction counselors; instead we are people who have lived life experiences with recovery and provide “non-clinical” recovery support to their peers! “Peer” means we are equal, on the same playing field. Peer support is mutual and reciprocal; it’s a two-way street. It means there is equally shared power and no strong power differential like you might find in a clinical relationship.

We remove barriers to recovery. We help overcome roadblocks. We connect peers to recovery resources that target their strengths and interests. We are strength focused and build on a person's strengths, resilience and capacities rather than providing services focused on correcting deficits, disabilities, or problems.

Peer support specialists promote collaborative documentation whenever possible, things should be recorded with recoverees, not about recoverees. The person seeking recovery is assumed to be fully capable of making informed choices and his/her preferences are respected. We provide emotional support. We provide empathy versus sympathy. We meet peers where they are at because it’s their recovery, not ours. We help them find the answers that are already inside them. We focus on what is right with them. We remain adaptable to many stages and modalities of recovery, as well as to different service settings and organizational contexts.

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Q: How does someone become a Peer Recovery Support Specialist?

A: For those in Minnesota, you can fill out an application for the Recovery Coach Academy (RCA). Candidates apply to the program and are interviewed as part of the selection process. Application materials for each session are posted several weeks before the application is due. Once selected, the Recovery Coach Academy is a 46-hour program that introduces participants to the key concepts, fundamental skills and core functions of being effective in their role as a recovery coach. The cost of RCA is $850, however, there are also a limited amount of scholarship opportunities available.

Q: What type of training does a Peer Recovery Support Specialist receive?

A: At the Recovery Coach Academy, participants start by learning about Minnesota Recovery Connection and the basics of an RCO (Recovery Community Organization). From there, training focuses on core functions, principles, individual recovery support services, relationship enhancement and motivational interviewing skills. The training is thorough and covers everything from cultural competencies, self-awareness, stigma and labeling, culturally sensitive interviewing, co-occurring and mental health to crisis interventions, ethics and boundaries, recovery planning, self-care, advocacy… and so much more!

Q: What are the mains goals for someone graduating from the Recovery Coach Academy?

A: The goals for someone graduating RCA are to empower people in recovery, conduct strength-based assessments, develop culturally-congruent recovery resources, deliver recovery education and training, monitor and support interaction continuity, use evidence-based services, advocate for recovery, model HOPE.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your experience at the Recovery Coach Academy.

A: I had patiently waited for just over 2 years before I was able to apply to RCA due to scheduling conflicts with work and school. When I was finally able to apply in the summer of 2015, my path was made very clear to me. To say it was “life-changing” for me and the 16 other peers that went through commencement with me is an understatement. I hold every single one of them safe in my heart with unconditional love. Now, 3 years later, I am blessed to not only be a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist with the 2 largest drugs/specialty courts in Minnesota, but I have also been chosen to help co-facilitate many more Academy’s, which I have watched numerous peers go through this transforming life experience. Who knows what this bright new field has yet to offer… the possibilities are endless.

Q: What is your favorite part of being involved with Minnesota Recovery Connection and the Recovery Coach Academy?

A: I have been very fortunate to have MRC very early in my recovery. I humbly started at the grassroots beginnings, learning from some of the most spirited women in the universe. From Nell to Jill to Monique to Julia to Kris K of the Milky Way! I am truly blessed to have watched, learned, and now be a part of an organization that has redefined recovery in a state that is so rich in the recovery nation.

Q: How do you think Peer Recovery Support Specialists have impacted the recovery community?

A: Peer support specialists have been impacting the recovery community for more than 275 years, if not since the beginning of time. Today, as we recognize that the STIGMA created by hiding anonymously for so many years is slowly being lifted, and as we recover out loud in a force of 23 million people, we have a face and a voice and a vote. In 2018, Peer Recovery Specialists are impacting the recovery community.

Thank you, Chris, for not only sharing your wisdom on peer specialist training but for all of the work you do as part of the recovery community. THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO!