Why Peer Support? A Peer Perspective

Article written by Wheston Grove

Since Michael and I are travelling to connect with other Veteran Service Organizations for presentations and upcoming conference in Jacksonville FL, one of our members, Wheston Grove has provided the BLOG this week. From one who knows....

Why Peer Support?

The mental health profession has become a major money-making industry progenating, as in fathering, advantages and disadvantages. With heightened awareness and consistent exposure to mental health illnesses comes a tendency to search for a label to neatly identify and categorize issues that may be natural and temporary, as opposed to those that are longstanding and truly ‘mental’. Counseling has become a trend in the United States. Nevertheless, talk therapy is proven effective. The mere act of experiencing another human being listening to you releases immediate distress, thereby alleviating cortisol levels. However, in the context of therapy, it is a contractual relationship. The client is paying for services. The client is paying to be heard. Many clients turn to therapists as a last-ditch effort. For this reason, it is essential that potential clients and therapists are highly aware of their intentions. If intentions are blurry or nonexistent, then goals need to be conceptualized and succinctly identified on paper from the start, otherwise therapy can turn into an endless, lifelong shoulder to lean on which disempowers the client to a certain degree. A good therapist, counselor, psychologist, “shrink”, does more than listen.

Unfortunately, many clients don’t realize they are guiding the sessions. Some may be too reticent to speak up or take the helm; others may not know what they want. In cases of trauma, talking about the source of intense, paralyzing pain can initially cause more distress. Counseling as a profession is an intimately contrived situation. Keyword being “contrived”. The counselor is trained to listen and be attentive. They may be mentors, advocates, cheerleaders, but not your friend from a legal standpoint. Enter the Peer Specialist. Peer Specialists are individuals who experience mental health issues of their own and work with others to impart skills and tools related to coping and enhancing their lives. This is why peer support is instrumental in seeing people change and take charge of their treatment plans. Sometimes the simple, raw facts are buried, lost in translation as “counselor and client” shift through details of the past. With a peer, the foundation is already in place. Sometimes the most powerful healing comes from two words: “I understand.” Not only intellectual understanding, but the more critical, emotional empathy of having shared another’s anguish in a similar form. Peer Support Specialists “get it” because they’ve been there and transparently speak about the ups and downs.

Many people go to a therapist with the false notion, “I have a problem and he or she— the therapist, the “doctor”, is going to help me fix it.” People need to be informed and aware of this major pitfall. To get better, to heal, requires awareness and support. Pray to God and meditate locked away in your room and you have both ‘awareness’ and ‘support’ without the expense of a copay! Of course, not everyone is ready to confront themselves. For others, God is not a refuge. They seek a human ear, which is completely natural. The irony is, the only answer, the final solution, the chief “treatment,” lies within. It may sound cliché, a Taoist platitude, but it is no less true.

Peers don’t turn to each other with the expectation of receiving the “answer” to their dilemmas. They are looking for the way back to being whole. Unconditional support is effective. Peers, like AA sponsors, don’t talk with you for 50 minutes then pull the plug and schedule you for the next week. Peer Specialists support you at all hours, when you’re at your most vulnerable. Traditional therapy sometimes neglects, and is restricted from, the value of camaraderie. Camaraderie isn’t a service for which one pays. Camaraderie is borne of shared suffering. Would you rather turn to someone whose been in battle and survived to tell about it, or speak to someone whose read about war in a book? To know is to feel. To feel is to remember. And to remember is to say, “I’ve been there.”

At Warrior Way Wellness Center, the staff of trained Peer Specialists “get it.” They are here to serve those, especially veterans, who seek balm for their wounds and medicine for their heart, mind, and soul – none of which comes packaged on any shelf or scripted in a tutorial. They show you how to make the healing elixir for yourself, one ingredient at a time.

For those of you who are ‘Peers’ or who want to support our nation’s service members, veterans and families with ‘Peer Services and Workforce Development’, use our PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE tab – 144,000 donations of $ 1.00 by Easter, or better yet, Stand for the Pledge $ 1.00, this Sunday, February 2, 2020!


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