Session: “What We Have in Common”: Integrating Peer Specialists in Health & Wellness Interventions for People with Psychiatric Disabilities (Society for Social Work and Research 20th Annual Conference - Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future)

147 “What We Have in Common”: Integrating Peer Specialists in Health & Wellness Interventions for People with Psychiatric Disabilities

Friday, January 15, 2016: 5:15 PM-6:45 PM
Meeting Room Level-Meeting Room 16 (Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel)
Cluster: Mental Health
Symposium Organizer:
Ana Stefancic, PhD, Columbia University
Rob Whitley, PhD, McGill University and Kelli Adams, Pathways to Housing PA
Purpose: Peer specialists are individuals with lived experience of mental health conditions who have progressed in their recovery and received training to support others. Studies support the idea that peer services may work as effectively as clinical or non-peer interventions, and that peer services may offer distinct advantages. In recognition of these positive results, peer specialists are a growing segment of the mental health workforce in the U.S. and other countries. Thirty states in the U.S. have some level of Medicaid reimbursement for peer specialists, and this number will grow with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Peer specialists are described as bringing unique credibility, trust, and hope to people with severe mental illness (SMI), and serve as positive role models who can tap into their own experiences to provide clients with instrumental, informational, and emotional support. Despite the effectiveness of peer-delivered services, peer specialists are currently underutilized in health and wellness interventions aimed at improving the physical health of people with SMI. Further, few studies have examined how peer specialists are integrated into these interventions, how services are adapted for delivery by peer specialists, and how unique aspects of peer specialists’ perspective and experience is actually enacted in practice.

Methods & Results.This panel will consist of three presentations using different methods (systematic review, case study, qualitative-ground theory) that highlight and elucidate the work of peer specialists in health & wellness interventions for persons with SMI. The first presentation will discuss the results of a systematic literature review of how peer specialists have been involved in interventions that seek to improve physical health and reduce disparities among people with SMI. The second presentation will share findings from a pilot study to explore the feasibility and acceptability of a peer-led healthy lifestyle intervention adapted for use with people with SMI living in supportive housing. The third presentation explores the perceptions of peer specialists, employed in a Housing First Peer Wellness program, regarding their role in service delivery, with a focus on understanding how the concept of shared experience operates in practice. 

Conclusions & Implications: Our discussants, a researcher and a Certified Peer Specialist, will discuss next steps and encourage attendees to share their own experiences with integrating peer specialists into service delivery and strategizing how peer specialists’ roles may be expanded in the areas of health and wellness. Upon completion of this panel, attendees will be able to discuss how peer specialists have been involved in physical health interventions; how a healthy lifestyle intervention can be adapted for use with people with psychiatric disabilities incorporating peer specialists as intervention facilitators; and what mechanisms contribute to the effectiveness of peer-delivered services, with a new understanding of how shared experience can be applied in practice.

* noted as presenting author
Systematic Literature Review of Peer-Based Health Interventions for People with Serious Mental Illness
Leopoldo J. Cabassa, PhD, Columbia University; David Camacho, MSW, Columbia University; Edgar Galvis, MSW, Columbia University
“What We Have in Common”: The Role of Shared Experience in Peer-Delivered Services
Ana Stefancic, PhD, Columbia University; Sophia House, MPhil, Yale University; Sharon Osterweil, MPH, LifeLong Medical Care
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