Peer Supports Engage the Power of Lived Experience
Amy Sica, Riverside’s Director of Recovery and Peer Services, sat down to discuss the way those in this role on a multidisciplinary team can guide, support and advocate for people in their recovery journeys…
Q. Could you tell me about your role at Riverside?
A. I would love to! As the Director of Recovery and Peer Services, I work in a consultative and training capacity for our lived experience roles — people who have experienced mental health or substance use challenges themselves or have supported a family member through their recovery journey–and the teams they work on. I also promote and build upon the strength-based, recovery-oriented supports and services we offer here at Riverside.
Q. What types of peers does Riverside have on staff, and how are they organized?
A. Riverside has Lived Experience (Peer) roles across most of our divisions – 52 people and growing. These jobs consist of Peer Specialists, Peer Mentors, Family Partners, and Recovery Coaches. Each role is uniquely trained to utilize their own lived experience to connect and partner with individuals we support as they navigate their personal recovery pathway. While the structure can vary depending on the program, most have a lived experience supervisor. We also have a bi-monthly community meeting for all Peer roles and divisions to come together and share resources and supports.
Q. How can peer supports be beneficial to peoples’ recovery journeys?
A. First and foremost, peer support is based on hope and mutuality. It lets others know that they are not alone in their journey and that recovery is possible. By walking along with someone with organic mutuality, we support others as they define their individualized pathway towards recovery and work towards their personal goals in their community. Numerous studies have also shown that peer support improves engagement with supports and services and decreases hospitalization stays.
As part of a multidisciplinary team, peer support specialists can help advocate on behalf of the individual, and ultimately support them as they find their own voice so that they can live the fullest, most authentic life they desire. Ultimately, the model that works best for the individual is what works best for them. Some individuals prefer clinical support, some prefer peer support, and some want both!
Q. Riverside just opened two new Community Behavioral Health Centers (CBHCs). Can you tell us how peer services are essential to the CBHCs?
A. The Commonwealth recognizes the value of peer support and required peer services in all CBHCs. The interdisciplinary teams will allow individuals to have a wide range of service options. Integrating peers into programs like this has proven to increase a person’s sense of hope and satisfaction with support and decrease substance use, among many other things.
Going beyond the CBHCs, we have peers in our Behavioral Health Supports for Justice-Involved Individuals and our Medicated Assisted Treatment (MAT) service to amplify the organic connection and sense of hope that comes from partnering with someone who has had similar experiences. We also collaborate with other agencies, such as Kiva Centers, where I’m a trainer for the Certified Peer Specialist certification training team, and Riverside holds Recovery Coach Academies (30-hour intensive trainings that provide attendees with the skills needed to guide, mentor, and support anyone who wants to enter or sustain long-term recovery) open to anyone with lived experience from Riverside or the outside community.
Q. What do you see as the future of peer services?
A. I am excited to see the continued expansion of peer services. I envision clinical roles being filled with individuals who are open about their own lived experience and who can use and share that experience for the benefit of the people we serve. We are seeing peer-run respites and the peer voice included in important projects such as Mass General’s Engage Initiative with cancer patients (https://engageinitiative.org/). As individuals who have navigated supports and services, we have a unique and valuable skillset to help expand the scope of traditional services.
Q. What’s your favorite part of your job?
A. I am grateful to Riverside for creating a Director of Recovery position, as it demonstrates the organization’s commitment to lived experience roles. I pinch myself often, so thankful that my path in life has led me to where I am. There is something incredibly powerful about being able to use my own personal and professional experiences as I partner with divisions across Riverside.