Peer Support Specialists: It’s time to discuss their true value.

Aaron Matthew Laxton, LCSW
5 min readDec 28, 2019

One of the most valuable tools that we have as a recovery movement is certified-peer-specialists. A person sharing their lived experience often has the highest impact on a person actively in substance use or at the highest-risk of returning to active substance use. I fear, however, that our industry is not safeguarding our peers, and in failing to do so, conditions are created for increased risk for relapse. Yes, the recovery process is personal to each person but the zeal and enthusiasm of helping others are far too often replaced by the personal toll that this highly demanding work takes on our peers.

The Demand Placed on Peers

Increasingly, peers are doing more critical and higher-skill level work with others who are impacted by substance use, based on their personal experiences. But along the way, many people and organizations have placed them in a variety of positions that jeopardize their mental health and recovery without properly ensuring their safety and development. As a movement, it is unthinkable that we would simply exhaust our most effective resource without giving any thought to their long-term mental health or personal recovery. For every peer who experiences a relapse, either with substances or their mental health, a large portion of responsibility is with us as a movement for not making their care a priority.

As a recovery movement and as an addiction industry, increasingly peers are asked to do work within interdisciplinary teams however most are not given the training that positions them for success. Time and time again, I hear stories of peers who have their mental and emotional capacity on others, at a huge cost personally. When the peer experiences a relapse or decline in their mental health they leave the field, we are left wondering what could have been done differently. Astoundingly, many of these peers have asked for help, have sought help, but help is simply not there. For others, they might have been afraid to ask for help for fear or stigma. For example, if a peer relapses on alcohol, which is not illegal, will they be viewed differently? Is their recovery somehow diminished? Only if recovery is viewed through a 12-step lens of abstinence-only. If a peer who is living with bipolar starts to experience mania, how would…

Aaron Matthew Laxton, LCSW

I am a psychotherapist who writes about mental health, addiction, recovery and the impact of substance use from personal experience. Views are my own.