How do people know that recovery is real, if we don’t talk about it?

Peer Support Specialists (PSS) are not clinicians, social workers, or medical professionals, and they are not looking to replace any of these integral roles in an individual’s recovery.

A PSS is someone in recovery with either a mental health diagnosis and-or substance use disorder hoping to join the treatment team in a collaborative-based approach, thus enhancing the level of care an individual may receive.

Perhaps the best way to summarize the role of a PSS is “someone who offers hope, support, and advocacy to others through his or her own shared experiences.”

Dave Pruett, a Certified PSS, has over 30 years in recovery. Like so many hiding from the stigma, Pruett came out of the “recovery closet” hoping to use his own journey to help peers with theirs.

Pruett took CPSS training on the state level, leading to a career with the S.C. Department of Mental Health (SCDMH). Pruett is now the PSS supervisor at Berkley Mental Health Center with SCDMH. Recently, Pruett received PSS certification nationally through Mental Health America.

Peer support isn’t a one-way street. Pruett believes the work he does equally impacts his own recovery. It’s important while working within a collaborative team to adhere to one’s area of expertise.

Pruett does not provide therapy or medical advice. He DOES provide an example of recovery so the individuals he works with can reach the recovery goals they have chosen using their own personal strengths.

Pruett recognizes he might encounter a recovery issue he isn’t well versed in. This is where being part of a team is most beneficial to the individuals he serves.

What makes Pruett’s efforts so effective is that he meets his peers where they are. This means the services he provides aren’t about forcing or promoting his own personal strategies. His method is to share what has worked and what hasn’t worked in his own journey.

Pruett will support the individuals he serves with the freedom to make the choices that serve them best. The relationship between a PSS and their peers is completely voluntary. The individuals in recovery are in the driver’s seat, as the PSS sits right beside them.

Pruett also recognizes that in order to establish a trusting and effective relationship he needs to foster a safe and judgment free environment.

Peer support isn’t about creating one path everyone in treatment needs to follow. Peer support is about tailoring individual approaches in an effort to address the specific recovery goals and challenges that particular peer is facing.

Pruett realizes he needs to achieve a balance between using examples from his own journey to build rapport while keeping the primary focus on the individual he is working with.

Peer support isn’t about fixing anyone’s problems; it’s about starting a conversation in hopes of reducing stigma and advocating for others in recovery to allow their voices to be heard.

Laura Kaponer is a mental health advocate and social media blogger, as well as a volunteer with the local chapter of NAMI. #LauraKaponeris1in5 (as 1 in 5 Americans have a mental illness).