Few people these days are unaffected by mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated one in five adults in the United States had a mental illness in 2019, which is around 51.5 million people. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or colleague, more Americans are acutely aware of the debilitating effects these illnesses can have. Symptoms can impact everyday life, but every peer support specialist and mental health professional can make a difference. If you want to be a part of this difference, a master of clinical mental health counseling gives you the stepping stones you need to become a peer support specialist and start your mental health counseling career.
The Role of a Peer Support Specialist
Mental Health America describes peer support specialists as individuals who offer advice and support to clients with mental illnesses, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug or alcohol addiction. In some cases, these specialists have shared similar experiences with the clients they’re helping, establishing a connection between the individuals. Even without personal experience of mental illness, peer support specialists undergo extensive training to most effectively help others.
What Is Peer Support?
Intentional Peer Support Founder Shery Mead defines peer support as “a system of giving and receiving help founded on key principles of respect, shared responsibility, and mutual agreement of what is helpful.”
A peer support specialist can have a number of roles to help clients, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The main role is as a mentor, using one-on-one meetings to help clients overcome their issues. But some peer support specialists may work in call centers or facilitate group therapy.
Peer Support and Its Effects
Peer support not only benefits individuals with mental illnesses but also society as a whole. According to PR Newswire, individuals spent $225 billion on health care treatment for mental disorders in 2019.
Peer support counseling has proven to be effective, with Mental Health America noting a number of studies that show peer support produces many positive results.
- Life coaches in the Buffalo, New York, area helped 53 percent of clients with employment goals return to work.
- A federally qualified health center in Denver used peer support and realized a return on investment of $2.28 for every $1 spent. Over nine months, the number of hospitalizations and days hospitalized for clients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder declined sharply.
- A separate study found that 28.7 percent of respondents were not employed or had transitional employment before becoming certified peer specialists. Post-training, 60 percent of respondents “transitioned off or reduced public assistance and reduced their use of mental health care services.”
- Individuals who participated in peer support reported significant decreases in body pain, expressed greater hopefulness, and reached health goals through self-reporting.
Peer Support and Counseling
While peer support obviously provides benefits, professional counseling is key for the most effective treatment. Both types of help offer different benefits.
Mental health counselors help clients manage their disorders and provide therapy toward addressing their problems. For example, a counselor may use cognitive behavioral therapy to identify problems and formulate solutions that clients can utilize to overcome the effects of their illness.
Peer support specialists, on the other hand, use their own experiences to form an emotional connection with clients, helping guide them in overcoming their problems.
Careers in Mental Health
The mental health counseling career is one of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States. The employment of mental health counselors is expected to increase 20 percent by 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Pursuing a Career in Counseling
Grace College’s online master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling explores psychology and the social sciences. As you consider an array of online colleges for Clinical Mental Health Counseling near you in the midwest, be assured that when you find your way to Grace, you will discover an accredited online college for your Christian counseling degree, taught with a biblical worldview. A Grace Online counseling degree will help you make workable connections between behavior and relationship, preparing you to weigh questions and create conversation in a Christian college online context.
Your road to becoming a peer support specialist starts here.