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Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion

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Toolkit for Peer Specialists

Peer Specialist Toolkit

Peer support occurs when people with the same types of problems help each other.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Since 2012, 900 new peer specialists have been integrated into VHA care for Veterans with serious mental illness (MI).  VA research shows that Veterans who had peer specialists on their treatment teams reported significant improvement in their perceived ability to actively manage their own health care.

Matthew Chinman, PhD, Chief of the Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion's Implementation Core and Investigator with the VISN4 Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Centers (MIRECC), has developed a toolkit  for peer specialists based on the lessons learned from the VA-funded evaluation of their impact on clinical teams.  He is also part of the work group that is facilitating the VA’s move to a more recovery-oriented system of care. 

Peer specialists are Veterans who have personal experience managing and recovering from mental illness and who bring this unique expertise to the treatment setting. Their work involves sharing their recovery stories, acting as role models of recovery, serving on interdisciplinary treatment teams, advocating for Veterans, and connecting Veterans to helpful resources. But what effect do peer specialists have on Veterans’ treatment outcomes?   Studies conducted outside of VA have shown that including peer specialists in treatment results in less inpatient use, better treatment engagement, and greater life satisfaction. Including peer specialists in treatment also helps improve quality of life and social functioning.

Researchers in the VISN 4 and VISN 22 MIRECCs conducted a rigorous study focusing specifically on Veterans within VHA. This study, called Peers Enhancing Recovery, compared 149 Veterans with peer specialists on their mental health case management teams to 133 Veterans whose case management teams did not include peer specialists. The researchers followed both groups over one year and asked Veterans about their quality of life, relationships, symptoms, and their ability to self-manage and be active in their health care. Veterans who had peer specialists on their treatment teams reported significant improvement in their perceived ability to actively manage their own health care. This suggests that integrating peer support into treatment may play a key role in encouraging Veterans to become more active in their treatment and recovery.

To access the Peer Specialist Toolkit click HERE.

Read more about the Peer Specialist Toolkit in the MIRECC/CoE Mental Health Innovations Newsletter.

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