Is NY’s Mental-Health System Listening to the Peers Who’ve Lived It?


From City Limits: “In 2017 there were over 600 certified peer specialists in New York City alone, according to the Peer Workforce Consortium. That number has grown since the launch of ThriveNYC in 2015, Mayor de Blasio and First Lady McCray’s effort to overhaul the city’s mental health infrastructure, when the city pledged to train 200 certified peer specialists yearly beginning in fiscal year 2017.

Yet these gains have not tracked with acceptance of peers as equal partners in treatment. Stephanie Thompson, who became a certified peer specialist in 2015, says that one of her former employers—a prominent local social service agency—hosted monthly staff parties to which the peers were not invited, and that her clinical colleagues persisted in treating her like a client. ‘That type of stuff is institutional, and it’s what I ran up against, and it’s one of the reasons I’m not working in those agencies doing what I love to do,’ says Thompson. […]

As part of his role as a trainer for the Psychiatric Institute, [organizer Sascha Altman] DuBrul interviewed many peer specialists working within New York City and found that these problems—as well as low pay, a dearth of career advancement options and opportunities for training—were widespread. […]

‘If peers were really valued in the system, they’d have multiple training programs, and different lenses of peer work,’ says [former peer Jazmine] Russell. ‘We’d have holistic peer work, relational peer work, community organizing peer work. We’d have peers in every aspect of the treatment process.’

The current state of affairs is a far cry from the intended purpose of peers, which was as a corrective for the chauvinism of clinicians ignorant of the ways systemic factors compound psychiatric distress. ‘How do we make sure that there’s peer roles that actually can have enough power and weight to them that there’s the ability to be transformative, the ability to actually change the model from the inside?’ asks DuBrul. ‘What that would look like is if people organized.'”

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  1. It’s almost impossible for peer workers to function within the traditional institutions in the system. You’re not really allowed to carry out the mandates of peer work such as furthering choice for people who are detained in these “hospitals”. You’re not allowed to promote collaboration and many times you can’t be transparent and honest. If you do so you immediately run afoul of the clinical staff. And they certainly don’t want any transformative things going on. They opt for the status quo. It doesn’t surprise me that this has happened in New York.

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  2. Boston isn’t listening

    From the point of view of one who was a CRC (rehabilitation Counselor) and has been a CPS for the last eight years at a homeless shelter, one issue that is important is unionization. Another issue is management.
    Both Management and SEUI just do not know what to make of me (us?). One social worker/ supervisor wanted to push me out the door and then the local union rep was willing to open the door. This was more than three years ago but I have stuck around.
    When I started another guy joined me as a PS but failed to complete the CPS training.
    I was offered more hours but declined the offer because management were not honest with me. They wanted me to work four and five hour shift and it was an hour commute each way. I can’t afford to live in Boston. DMH management brought in a new CPS. A new type. She was a politically appointed PS. A real insider with good experience and good at supporting folks. But from day one not honest with me. After a disagreement about the ethical treatment of shelter guest between me and management I was shown the door. I learned that being driven by values and acting on these values can put your job at risk. This new “Peer” a NAMI hot shot chose to work with management to keep an eye on me.
    Because I was not politically connected the union reluctantly helped me to stay at work. When I came on board I was on SSDI and begged to get a job with insurance. There has been some progress made but curruption of some “Peers” is a concern.
    Uncertainty is something I live with. Not all Peers are good or bad. Most of my days are good but I have had a few bad ones. Treating guest fairly is not a bad day.
    I am now on my 5th social worker/supervisor. I am keeping my fingers crossed. I see my work as a chance to reduce the mortality associated with homelessness. But, ignorance of some campus police, mental health workers and clinicians is hard to overcome. Sometimes I feel instead of studying rehabilitation counseling spending time getting politically connected might have been a better way to spend my time.
    My advice to a new PS is learn about self care. I went through some burn out. I take the training available so steps I advocate for are informed by more than my own experience. I have gained the respect of most of the folks I work with yet a few (including s PS) are in the range between hostility to uncertainty. There are ways to help others without being a CPS.

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