MHW: NAPS Pushes For National Standards, Certification For Peers

NYAPRS Note: The following piece gives background to the National Association of Peer Specialists’ Call to Collaboration on National Standards for Peer Support Providers, which has been posted on the NAPS website at  


NAPS Pushes For National Standards, Certification For Peers

Mental Health Weekly  September 24, 2012


Citing a need to define the peer specialist profession, establish values, and create cohesive standards to avoid inappropriate work tasks, the National Association of Peer Specialists (NAPS) is launching efforts to establish national standards and certification for peer specialists.


NAPS, a private, non-profit organization, was established in 2004. Its 1,200 membership includes peers from across the country as well as Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom.


Steve Harrington, J.D., NAPS founder and executive director, said the initial process of developing national standards will be to first establish core values, ethics, competencies and practice standards for peers. “We find others are defining the profession for us,” Harrington told MHW. “There are so many agencies that do not understand the role [of peer specialists] or what it means,” he said. “We want to help to define that for them.”


Peers have often taken on such job responsibilities as receptionists and other office support staff, and even custodians, said Harrington. Peers are expected to work in other

“inappropriate” roles, such as case managers, he said. “Although some peers do the work of case managers like connecting consumers with mental illness to resources, it’s not about monitoring medication use,” Harrington said.


“We hear a lot of horror stories,” said Harrington. “Some states are becoming more restrictive in terms of academic credentials. It’s a lack of understanding about appropriate peer roles. They’re not clinicians; their role primarily is to inspire hope by modeling recovery for consumers with mental health needs.”


“Unfortunately, we find many consumers receiving services have lost the ability to dream and think about their goals,” said Harrington. Peer support is about helping others through the challenges that peer specialists once faced, he said.


National task force

Members of NAPS formed the National Certification Task Force to gather feedback and decide the next steps involved in the push for certification during NAPS’ annual conference in Philadelphia on Sept. 6-8.


“Like any other profession, we’re looking to develop standards,” Nicole Darr, program manager for the Mental Health Association of Southeast Pennsylvania and co-chair of the task force, told MHW.


The objectives of the newly formed task force are to:

1. Establish an organized peer run group to address national standards for peer support.

2. Determine whether there is broad support among peer specialists for national standards.

3. Determine what the national standards should be if there is support for developing standards.


NAPS wants to promote and establish national certification for peers in order to educate co-workers, supervisors, administrators, and policymakers about recovery and the healing effects of relationships with those who are role models of recovery, according to a draft document Harrington prepared. The document should be finalized by the end of the year, he said.


According to NAPS, national certification for peers is important because it would be recognized from one state to the next and for career development, noted Harrison.


“If you’re certified as a peer specialist in New York and you move to California you want that certification to still be valid,” he said. Peers may have to go through the whole recertification process again once they’ve moved, said Harrington, adding that currently, about 25 states have formal certification processes. “Every state seems to be doing their own thing,” he said.


Harrington said the draft document will be available at the Pillars of Peer Support Service Summit at the Carter Center in Atlanta on Sept. 24-25. The Carter Center, a not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, works in partnership with Emory University to advance peace and health, including mental health, worldwide.


One of the major topics of that summit is the peer workforce, he said. “We want to be very inclusive,” said Harrington. “We’d like to hear ideas [about the standards and certification process] from peers, family members and behavioral health professionals,” he said. Additional goals of the Pillars summit include teaching states how to conduct peer training and how to qualify for Medicaid reimbursement services.


Federal support

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sees the development of the peer workforce and peer specialists and recovery coaches as integral

to the field, especially as health care reform develops, said Paolo del Vecchio, MSW, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS).


“That leads to the need for standardizing, credentialing and training of the peer workforce in every state in the nation,” del Vecchio, told MHW. He pointed to a SAMHSA

project “Bringing Recovery Supports to Scale Technical Assistance Center Strategy (BRSS TACS),” an initiative to promote wide-scale adoption of recovery-oriented supports, services and systems. Eight states each received a $20,000 contract to expand their recovery systems. The majority of the states chose peer workforce issues as critical to their respective recovery efforts, he said.


“We’re seeing peers in a variety of settings - community-based care, criminal justice, and in primary care settings,” said del Vecchio. “The growth of the peer workforce has been phenomenal,” he said.


Health care reform makes the development of standards and credentials for peer specialists even more timely and important, said del Vecchio. “The full implementation of health care reform [supports the] need to increase the capacity of a qualified and effective behavioral health workforce; it’s imperative,” he said. “We believe the peer workforce can play a crucial role in meeting that need.” •


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