What is Peer Support?
By Melissa Talal
Peer support is a unique form of assistance and emotional support that is typically provided by someone who has lived through similar experiences, e.g. a mental health challenge, trauma, and/or addiction. Having someone help you through a challenging time who has also experienced something similar has proven to be a powerful and effective tool in recovery.
Peer support refers to being able to pick up the phone and call a peer - be it a friend or an acquaintance - and say to them "I need support" and that person will talk you through a situation that may have been trying or upset you in some way. When you have peer support, you are able to find support if and when you need it. The person providing the support might be giving advice or just a kind ear to listen. Peer support is something we may all need and can benefit from during difficult times.
How to Find Peer Support in Your Own Community
You can create it by turning to your acquaintances who have been through similar experiences and asking if they can provide you with that kind of support.
Recovery Learning Centers: The Northeast Recovery Learning Community
You can also turn to a peer related service. I am a peer and I work for an agency called The Northeast Recovery Learning Community (NERLC). I am a certified peer specialist (CPS), which means I had to go through a special training to become a type of 'licensed' peer. I am licensed to help other peers.
There are five Recovery Learning Centers (RLCs) statewide. The NERLC is responsible for the Northeast part of the state. RLCs are generally peer run, as peers have the lived experience of mental illness. RLCs offer services including peer support groups and peer trainings. The NERLC groups can be accessed online at NILP's website and are held over video or conference call. You can view our monthly newsletter on the NERLC Newsletter page.
The NERLC runs groups specific to different types of peer support and engages in activities and events in the community. I ran a peer support group at the Lexington Community Center until COVID-19 happened. The group was called Recovery is Real, and the guiding principle of that group is that we can improve our lives.
Other types of peer activities and agencies include clubhouses and drop-in centers. There are a few clubhouses in the area and one drop-in center.
- Elm Brook Place in Burlington
- Charles Webster Potter Place in Waltham
- Point After Club in Lawrence
- Horizon House in Wakefield
The clubhouses concentrate on a return to work philosophy and on providing a work-oriented direction. The individuals attending the clubhouse can choose to do some type of work, such as working on the newsletter or cooking lunch or selling lunch tickets. The clubhouses are generally funded by the Department of Mental Health (DMH). A referral from a doctor or a psychiatrist is required.
Waverley Place in Belmont is a drop-in center. It is a part of McLean hospital but is located off the grounds. They are privately funded and require a sliding scale monthly membership fee.
Staff and peer counselors assist members to design and implement a plan of action customized to the individual's needs and goals. Activities include trips in the community, formal groups, and informal socializing. Anyone can self-refer to become a member.
Recovery is Real
We have a saying that "Recovery is Real." In other words, anyone can recover from their illness, they can prosper, and yes, this is real. For more information, you can contact me by email or by phone at 978-687-4288, ext. 161.