Two people informally meeting at a table

What I Do In A Peer Support Session

When talking about my efforts to expand the practice of Peer Support here in West Michigan, I was asked what a typical session would look like.

That seemed like an excellent question so I thought I’d give a typical layout here. First, one of my goals as a self-employed Peer Support Specialist is to meet with people where they are comfortable. Some people are better supported one on one in a familiar setting rather than in a group or at an office. I can meet with a peer either in their home or at a place such as a coffee shop or maybe a place like Panera Bread.

The first few meetings

The first few times I meet with someone, I will establish paperwork and such to talk with other service providers. I work best as part of a team so I prefer to be free to talk openly with them. Then I listen carefully to hear the story of the person I’m serving. I want to know where you’re coming from, and I also want to earn your trust. I don’t expect someone to walk in, meet me once, and know that they trust me. Trust takes time, and I’m willing to put in the effort.

What most sessions are like

Over time, I share different coping skills and how to apply them. I practice with people during our meetings so that it’s not purely intellectual knowledge. I often start with Mindfulness because that skill often is needed first before we can apply other skills.

I hear the goals and dreams of the people I work with and try to build a positive relationship with them and their team to help them realize their dreams. I truly don’t believe that people need to be held back. I don’t think we need big walls between ourselves and what we would do if we weren’t sick. I do believe it takes a lot of effort to push through a severe mental illness and achieve those things, and I want to share how I did it and all the tools I used to get there. I put a massive amount of work into my Recovery, but I had to do a lot of it myself. My hope is that by talking with the people I serve, I can help guide them through the skills so that they need not spend as much time as I had to.

Practical goals and problem solving

I also meet with people for more specific purposes. I might take them to access resources such as housing or benefits. I might help them apply for school or advocate for themselves in various situations. I am not a case manager, but I can work alongside a case manager and walk with people as they go through those steps to achieve what they want.

Meeting with a psychiatrist

Another specialized session I can do is meeting with people who are meeting with their Psychiatrist. So far, there hasn’t been much demand for this, but I want people to know it’s an option. For a long time, I was afraid to truly trust my psychiatrists. To be fair, that was because some of my earlier doctors violated my trust. I hope that by being an advocate in those situations, people I serve might feel more safe talking to a medical doctor who knows medications far better than he might know what mental illness feels like. Some doctors are easy to meet with, but others simply have better training in medication than “bedside manner” or appearing empathetic. Doctors generally do care about their patients, but many have a harder time expressing this, due to a different focus in their training. I can fill that gap.

I hope this gives some idea what it’s like to work with me as a Peer Support Specialist. I am forever learning and becoming better and adding skills to my repertoire. Thanks for learning with me as we move through Recovery together.

picture by Christina Morillo at

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What is Peer Support?

July 10, 2019