Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Effectiveness of Peer Specialists Found to Vary By Type

More and more individuals who are well along the road to recovery from serious mental illness are assisting others who are not so far along this path. They are called peer specialists. Peer services are now available in many states and are delivered through numerous program types, service structures, and funding streams.

But how effective are peer specialists? Matthew Chinman, Ph.D., of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Medical Center, and colleagues decided to evaluate the evidence currently available to answer this question. They reported today in Psychiatric Services that the effectiveness of peer specialists varies by service type. Peer specialists who are added to traditional services or who deliver structured curricula to patients are more effective than peers who assume regular provider positions--say, work as case managers.

These findings have implications for psychiatrists, Chinman said in an interview. "The biggest implication is that peers can play a valuable role in the range of mental health services offered at facilities. However, care needs to be taken in how the position is set up and managed to make sure that peers are getting incorporated into the teams well (resistance among clinicians is an ongoing implementation issue) and are using their peer skills. Psychiatrists, who are usually in positions of authority in mental health facilities, could use that authority to make sure that peers are hired, supported, trained, and receive ongoing clinical supervision. Given that peer specialists are a relatively new field compared with the other professions, sites will not automatically want to hire peers. There is usually someone who must champion the idea. Psychiatrists could be those champions."

The report is part of a series of literature reviews in Psychiatric Services commissioned by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

(Image: Adam Gregor/


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