Recently, I participated in a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) continuing education workshop to keep my certification and to learn more information. During the training we identified recovery, our roles and responsibilities, and new Medicaid-billing policies. The training experience reminded me of interactions with mental health professionals and peers who have given me hope.
In short, recovery is a unique learning process that ultimately develops into self-direction. The CPS position is a growing dynamic that has spread across the country and is becoming internationally recognized. The position of a CPS is versatile and flexible; in that we are to act as a liaison between mental health staff and peers living with a diagnosis, and to demonstrate life coach abilities by acknowledging strengths within peers, and as a result to support their goals and plans.
Ultimately, the CPS position is to also overcome the mental health system or to help establish a new culture of recovery in that peers living with a diagnosis are self-directed, empowered, and more independent through a combination of peer support, professional assistance, and self-determination. Besides the CPS position, evidence of this new way of treating, recovering, and managing mental illness was practiced several times over the course of my own recovery, which began in 2007.
I am thankful to had come into contact with the many individuals who supported my recovery in some form. I can vaguely recall the intake process and diagnosis at a California state hospital. But I do remember the intake psychiatrist patiently discussing my medication regimen, tweaked my medications and doses, and gave me options before making changes; opposed to strictly prescribing a medication they thought would help my symptoms without my input. Furthermore, my doctor who diagnosed me with paranoid schizophrenia reassured me I would be able to move forward in life despite a permanent medical condition- my most inspiring life-changing realization.
The most intriguing concept I identified with from the training was "the shared experience." The notion that a group of individuals could build a bond, trusting relationship, and understanding of each other based on a common experience such as living with mental illness, and enduring the emotional turmoil, terrible symptoms, and fruitful recovery, no matter how unique the journey.
As I reminisce about my journey living with mental illness I remember my peers who I came into contact with in the state hospital, clubhouse, support groups, and Certified Peer Specialist training. Engaging in peer support gives me purpose- I remember participating in a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) class facilitated by peers and imagining myself leading recovery discussion groups.
The first time I led a recovery discussion group was in 2009. First, I mentioned to my therapist that I wanted to facilitate our schizophrenia support group. Soon afterwards she spoke with her supervisor and gave me approval to co-facilitate the meeting with her. In the beginning we would debrief after the meeting and she would identify teaching moments and my strengths. By doing this I felt empowered, and I encouraged peers to take leadership roles by co-facilitating groups in the mental health center, NAMI meetings, and other networks. I've mentored three peers into leadership positions, and it feels great!
When I attended the CPS training in 2011 I did not know what to expect. However, after the training I felt like I can make a bigger impact on peers' lives with the tools the training equipped me with. The training was intense, but also empowering. I met several peers who wanted to take on leadership roles in the community and were acting on this goal through the training. The training reinforced my goal to make it my business and career to support peers and families in recovery.
While I was in the state hospital, my mother told me I would be an evangelist one day- sharing my story about how I made it through with schizophrenia, I did not know it would become my purpose. Now I embrace my recovery and encourage peers to do same in order to help themselves and other peers.