Peer Specialists are particularly underpaid and have a limited career growth trajectory within the “peer specialist” position. We’ve seen peers continue to invest in their own career development, furthering their education and training, and eventually moving into other ACT team positions or out of ACT all together. When they do move into the other positions, with their more advanced education in hand, they then get access to a salary boost. Whatever position they land in, they (hopefully) never lose their “peerness” and integrate that within the other position.”Peerness,” to me, is navigating the role of being part of a larger team of professionals, while aligning closely to the people served, helping serve as their voice within the team and larger system, while also teaching individuals the skills to be their own advocate. Peers carry an anchor of empathy – not only from the experience of struggling with mental illness (and/or substance use), it’s from being oppressed, overpowered, beaten down.
I get concerned when I see peers embracing or wanting a more “clinical” status — as it may reflect a drift from what is most sacred about their position. On the other hand, I think we create reason for this drift because we continue to undervalue this important position, both in fair compensation and career growth options.
A final thought, too, is that I hate how much we separate out peers from other team members who have not self-identified as such. All the unique qualities a peer brings are things we should all be striving to represent and offer to people we serve (advocacy, empathy, patience, broadened perspectives).
Photo by: Michał Parzuchowski