October 6, 2022

Dispatches From Peer Providers: Peer Support is Person-Driven

Peer Wellness Specialist Angela shares her personal story of recovery and the importance of person-driven care

By Angela Michael, Peer Wellness Specialist

Photo of Angela in front of a blue background

Angela Michael

My name is Angela, by the time you read this, I will have been working my first job as a Peer Wellness Specialist for over a year with Cascadia. I’m a huge believer that everything happens for a reason, even if it’s not obvious in the moment.

Having my life experiences of overcoming houselessness, drug dealing, addiction, and prioritizing my mental health finally qualified me for a way to give back and offer value in others’ lives. For years, I felt like wasted space. I had the desire to support others, but my life experience that resulted in a felony held me back. No matter how hard I worked to overcome obstacles, my record held me back from reaching my full potential.

But then I found out about Peer Support a couple of years ago and suddenly, all my difficulties could be seen as strengths, as my experience of overcoming them actually qualified me for the field. I was five years into recovery, in a healthy relationship, engaged in regular mental health counseling, on unemployment, and eager to help change lives. It was the best and worst time of my life trying to find work during a global pandemic, while coping with the state of the world and having the time to work on myself. One of my strengths is advocating for myself, which helped me gain the experiences necessary to establish the Peer Specialist I am today.

I always think to myself that I wish I had known about this field ten years ago. It seems like for a lot of my life, I naturally had qualities and values that aligned with the Peer Support model. I tend to be naturally drawn to those that need support. Practicing boundaries is very important for me because I tend to want to go above and beyond at every opportunity, even at the cost of experiencing burnout.

As a peer, I fully believe that each human is capable of recovery. Many of us Peer Wellness Specialists never thought we would ever make it, but here we are – living proof that it is possible.

Peer services are all about meeting the peer exactly where they’re at and supporting them in creating a plan of what they want in life by creating SMART goals to make it happen. As a peer, I fully believe that each human is capable of recovery. Many of us Peer Wellness Specialists never thought we would ever make it, but here we are – living proof that it is possible.

As Peer Wellness Specialists, many of us believe the traditional medical model doesn’t align with our values and beliefs. Some of us have even experienced harm from the medical model instead of healing. Person-driven care will be able to look at everyone through the lens of their own experiences and find a way forward that works specifically for that person. This can include medical interventions if that feels appropriate for that person. But it could include other things, such as increasing social connections, finding a belief system that gives hope and meaning, or discovering a hobby that rekindles a sense of joy.

In my personal experience of receiving support, providers with lived experience, whether it’s their personal experience or a close family member’s, are easier to connect with. One recent example is in early 2020 when I was faced with having to undergo bi-lateral carpel tunnel surgery. I was so anxious to have my first surgery, but the care providers I was assigned made all the difference to me. They made me feel comfortable enough to share my past with them and communicate my needs, such as an ultrasound vein finder and being told step-by-step what was going on throughout my visit. I was relieved when they agreed to my requests, trusting that I knew myself and what was best for me. I felt involved in my care and that my feelings mattered, which helped lower my anxiety. The nurse that was taking care of me shared a personal story about her son being in active addiction and how much she respected my recovery. Being able to share that connection with her made me feel confident to be open and honest which resulted in me getting better overall care.

Being looked at differently or judged by a provider is the worst feeling ever. For Peer Providers, we place the highest value on connecting with the person, without judgment or assumptions about who they are – or what’s going to work best for their recovery. That is what being “person-driven” means to us. The person in front of us is treated with respect, listened to, and encouraged to find the way forward that’s right for them.

Interested in a career that supports our community? Join our team!

You can learn more about becoming a Peer Wellness Specialist here.