I was having a chat with a friend recently and the question that emerged was: How do you know when you are ready to do peer support work?.
This blog article is part of my exploration and answer to that question.
There are four "drill-down" questions or four levels of considerations that I would ask myself to better clarify within yourself before launching into the peer workforce. These are tough but necessary as follows:
- Wellness: Am I Well?
- Advocacy: Can I Tell My Story?
- Support: What Level of Support Can I Offer?
- Mission: Is This My Calling?
1st Question: Am I well?
- Self-awareness: Your wellness affects everything
This has to do with a gut check by asking tough questions: How far am I into my own wellness? Do I have a relapse prevention plan? Have I experienced any crisis recently? Am I safe? I don't ask these things to be intrusive or cause you to have "ingrown eyeballs" but I think it is healthy to develop some self-awareness. The unexamined life is not worth living and your living and your effectiveness hinges on your level of self-awareness.
- Intentionality: Your commitment to your own well-being
Those that hire you are hiring you on the basis that you know yourself and where you are at in your own wellness. They are not hiring you to offer you peer supports but that you can offer than support to others. It simply comes down to this: At the moment you stop pursuing your own wellness, is the moment to you cease to provide peer supports. You cannot give what you do not have. Your effectiveness hinges on your wellness inside and outside the workplace.
- Prevention: Having a plan to be well and stay well
Do you have a WRAP Plan? Are you working your wellness plan? Do you have others on your plan that you check in with weekly? Have you shared your plan with supervisor? How often do you update your plan and tweak it? Not to be intrusive...but this is so important to show those that we support. We are the living proof. We are the evidence that wellness works because we are working our wellness. We are the evidence that recovery is real because it continues to be a reality in us. It is important that we have a plan to be well and stay well.
2nd Question: Can I tell my story?
- Disclosure: When should I disclose?
I think it is important to realize that part of being a peer to knowing whether to share your story and when to share your story. Do we know that inner voice of wisdom to know when or when we should share. Are we trying to "one up" those who are sharing with us? Are we still trying to work through "our own stuff"? If you are finding yourself with a deeper need to be understood more than a desire to understand, then you must ask whether you need your own outlets to work through your own issues. Peers must know when to speak and when to listen.
- Trauma: Can I tell my story?
Are you comfortable in sharing your story with others? Are you still working through your own trauma or personal pain? Have you reached that safe place within yourself that you can share elements of your own story in a way that can benefit others? Have you spent time developing your own story? It might be helpful that you take time to think through your own personal history and understand your own story. Your story can be one of the most powerful tools of transformation in your recovery and in the recovery for others. Learning to craft and share your story to different audiences is important in knowing how it will land in the minds of those who we support.
- Advocacy: How to tell your story in a transformative way?
Have we taken the time to really think about the different elements of our story? Have we thought about the different audiences that we will would speak to and share with? Is there a difference in sharing with someone on the street vs. sharing with a group of clinicians? It is important to understand the communication process and learning to adapt our story (I didn't say compromise our story) so that it we share the elements of our story that will most benefit the hearer. It is about them and not us. We must learn to share our story so that it has the intended result of offering hope and transformation.
3rd Question: How much support can I give?
- Empowerment: Am I ready to support others?
Are you ready to get your hands dirty? Are you ready to dive into the some of the most rewarding and challenging work that you have ever done? Are you willing to get involved in the pains and joys of those who are working on moving forward in their lives? Are you able to support people without seeking to change? If you are used to being a "fixer" and you are feeling the need to help, then you may need to step back for a moment. Peer work is mutuality and about self-advocacy and self-direction and self-empowerment. We must be able to allow others to discover their own way and own path to recovery. We cannot change people and we must allow them the courage to chart their own course.
- Volunteering: What level of support can I offer?
Is this the kind of work that I would like to do for a few hours a week? Do I just want to start out by testing the waters first? There is no harm in deciding that this is a volunteer opportunity and starting slow. I think it would be better for you and for those that you are supporting for them to know that you are just starting out and beginning your own journey of self-discovery. This is not a compromise and some of the most powerful peer work (maybe in its purest form) when you are doing this work in an unpaid capacity. Those that you support will probably be greatly touched when they know you are truly on an equal playing field and you are doing this work beyond a pay check.
- Bi-Vocational: Can I handle more than one job?
Can I handle the pressure of two jobs? Will peer work pay the bills? Will one job compromise my effectiveness in the other job? These are really important considerations to be taken into account. There is no need to plant seed in the ground if the seeds in your hands are the ones that you need to eat. It is important for you to take into account your own life situation and sometimes it comes down to keeping the lights on,food on the table and the rent paid for you and those you love. No one gets into peer work to get rich. No peer is paid what they are worth.
4th Question: Is this my calling?
- Profession: How do I approach my work?
Do you approach your job with excellence? Do you consider that your name is tagged to everything you do? Your work transcends your job. Long after all is said and done when others walk through the gallery of your life, others will view the legacy you have left. The choice is yours whether they look at your work and shrug their shoulders or stare in wonder at the quality of your work. You get the final vote in whether you approach your work as an artist and as a professional.
- Passion: Does peer work give me a sense of fulfillment?
Are you all in on this? Does peer work tap into your "deeper sense of YES!!!"? Does this connect to your sense of purpose? I think at some level you understand that in your work life that you get two pay checks. One pay check is the money you are paid. The other pay check is the joy you get out of your job. If you are not getting the second pay check ( you must consider) is the first one really worth it? These are important considerations because peer work must at some level tap into your deeper sense of why you are here and what you are meant to do and become.
- Competence: Am I effective and am I teachable?
Are you willing to stretch? Are you able to receive feedback and be taught? Are you truly connecting with others in such a way that others say they benefit from your presence and friendship? I think how you answer these questions may be some of the toughest yet important ones to answer. You have to be teachable and being willing to take constructive feedback on the chin. You must at some level see that you are able to connect with others in such a way that they walk away better because of it. There is nothing wrong with standing at the threshold and seeing that this might not be for me.
Take time to think through these different questions and stages of decision making and then launch your boat. Being and becoming a peer support specialist is an amazing journey once you have done your homework and the necessary soul work required.
Enjoy the journey.