Peer Specialist Training

Sue Bergeson Health Guide
  • Recently, I had the privilege of being a trainer for a veterans' peer specialist training event in Madison, Wisconsin. The training was led by three folks: Ike Powell, the master trainer and developer of the peer specialist curriculum; Dona, a gifted trainer and consumer leader from the Northwest; and Roy, a talented trainer and consumer leader within the VA. I seem to say this ad nauseum, but I really shouldn't be doing training anymore. I love it so much, but there are others who can do this, and I need to focus on other areas of DBSA's work. But I was persuaded to take a turn last week, in part because our staff trainers are so exhausted as they have been in high demand all year.


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    Peer specialist training is very, well, special. It is life changing in so many ways that it's almost impossible to put into words. One of the early sessions in the training course asks us to consider our wellness story—how we can tell it and when it's appropriate to share it in the context of the peer coaching we may be doing. After we've worked through our story, we share it with another peer at the training. And the peer then gives us a pin that reads "I am a walking miracle."


    What we really work on in the training, and what makes us "walking miracles," is our "wellness story"-not our "illness story." And that's a distinction I find very telling. If I focus on my illness story, I focus on how bad things are, have been and may be in the future. But if I focus on my wellness story, I build on my strengths and remind myself how, in the past, I have been able to move "beyond" and will continue to forge ahead in the future. Even when I face setbacks along the way, I still have the confidence to move forward because my wellness story reminds me how many obstacles I have already overcome. My wellness story gives me hope.


    How much better would/could our treatment be if our whole treatment team focused on our wellness story instead of our illness story? What would the hospital experiences be like? The medication appointments? Day treatment? It is truly a whole new world ... one we are all trying to make a reality.


    Back to our walking miracles at the Wisconsin training....


    When I had time to sit and really listen to my peers in Madison and learn about them as unique individuals, I met people to whom I simply bow down in awe. For example:

    • A vet who told me that, for a while, his life goal was to sit down and eat chicken INSIDE the local KFC—instead of outside, from the dumpster.
    • A woman who told me of being homeless 10 times because of the economic and legal burdens her well-off ex-husband continuously put on her after she divorced him when she learned that he had abused their child.
    • Another woman who had the courage to come up to me and invite herself to dinner with Ike, Dona, Roy and myself ... and then matter-of-factly, with no embarrassment, tell me that the place we selected was too expensive and ask that we choose another. I don't care who you are, it takes some real courage and commitment to your wellness plan to invite yourself to dinner with someone as renowned in mental health circles as Ike Powell, let alone with other people you don't know personally like Dona and Roy.
    • A vet who volunteers by helping other vets through the tangle of finding housing and keeping them there—instead of sitting at home worrying about his own very complicated set of illnesses, a situation that would bring most people to their knees.

    Most of these people had been thrown away by society for a long, long period in their lives. They have suffered—and still suffer—with heavy burdens. And all of them have made a true turnaround, with wounds still visible, to give to their fellow peers.


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    Now that's what I call a walking miracle.


    How does your perspective shift when you think about your "wellness story," rather than your "illness story"? Is there something that helps you to keep your focus there?

Published On: December 12, 2007