Peer Support in History
Only a few decades ago, the very premise of Peer Support upon which CHOICE is built was not only controversial, but downright scandalous. The relatively recent notion that those who struggle with the issues inherent in mental illness are well qualified to understand and help others was born of a 1970’s social movement started by a group of people who had experienced the shortcomings of the mental health services delivery system. They realized that conventional social and mental health services were lacking in much the same way as our overall health system and that consumers of such services needed to be empowered to learn to advocate for themselves.
Mental health professionals began to recognize that people who have experienced mental illness, those who have experienced depression and bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and trauma, neglect, and abuse, people who have experienced the very worse things that life can dish out, actually have something meaningful to offer those who are experiencing the same things – they can offer assistance with a perspective that nobody else can provide. That very simple, yet radical idea started a movement in the mental health world that was initially met with a lot of doubt and skepticism. The prospect of individuals with mental illness delivering services to others who are similarly afflicted, of individuals promoting their own recovery in service to others, was objected to at every turn.
We are in This Together
Fast forward to today. It’s come full circle. Not only are peer support services accepted, but any organization that doesn’t have them as a cornerstone of their philosophy is often considered behind the times. What CHOICE has shown the entire healthcare world and what other similar agencies, who are quite progressive for their time, have demonstrated is that those who have sat on the other side of the fence. those who have experienced the struggles, stigma, and isolation, can not only experience recovery in all of its beautiful forms, but they can also use that to infuse others with recovery, help others, and in doing so, nurture their own recovery.
Not only is the idea spreading, but the results are proving its effectiveness. Patient outcomes are better and mental health service consumers are coming out of the shadows to seek out the help that they previously rejected or even hid from. It’s a lot easier to seek support for a potentially “embarrassing” illness or situation from someone who has actually been there, someone who truly understands the pain and the struggle, and the prejudice often shown to consumers of mental health services. Peer support has created a wonderful new context for treatment and healing and is now the preeminent philosophy leading to greater and more permanent recoveries for patients. CHOICE is proud to be at the forefront of the peer support movement and strives to provide a unique level of care and compassion. We know what you’re going through because we’ve been there and we’re here to help.
When we drill down to the nuts and bolts of the Peer Concept, we find that it is what truly distinguishes CHOICE. The reality is that in many instances, those trying to access benefits are often perceived as guilty until proven innocent. Many service providers are always on guard, wondering what the client is trying to get over on them. Everyone at CHOICE has walked a mile in each client’s shoes. We treat people as innocent until proven guilty because we’ve been there. We are willing to give a person the opportunity to succeed. It’s a REAL opportunity and it’s what makes it unique and a key component of the peer concept. We understand the presumption of guilt when all someone wants is an opportunity; we are going to give them that opportunity. By the same token, if a client doesn’t do his or her part to build on that opportunity, we’re going to call them on it. By going into the relationship with a presumption of innocence and a genuine desire to help someone get a leg up, we help them change direction and succeed.