On becoming or working with a CPS in Massachusetts

Who is a Certified Peer Specialist?
A Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) is a person who has experienced mental health issues, trauma and/or substance-use issues and has been through training designed to enable them to help others through similar situations. CPSs hold a unique role in the field of Mental Health Care. They provide emotional support, advocacy, and share community resources from the perspective of someone who identifies as having first-hand lived experience of recovery. CPSs are mental health professionals who model recovery and help others heal through empathetic mutual interaction which may include sharing their own struggles and stories of hope, battling stigma, fighting for human rights, and facilitating change within the mental healthcare system. They may work together with clinicians, outreach counselors, housing and employment specialists on care teams such as the Department of Mental Health (DMH) funded programs like PACT and ACCS to support individuals in their growth. They may provide support individually or in groups in libraries, local coffee shops or peer community settings such as Recovery Learning Communities (RLCs) and Peer-run Community Access Centers.

How Would I Become a CPS in Massachusetts?
One becomes a CPS by attending the DMH funded Massachusetts Certified Peer Training program which is designed for people who have some knowledge and experience with peer support. Successful completion of this 60-hour, ten-day course results in a state-wide recognized certification. In order to be accepted into the training, applicants must live or work in Massachusetts, have lived experience of a mental health diagnosis, self-defined trauma and/’or substance use issues, health challenges, be working on their recovery, be at least 18 year of age and have a High School diploma or a GED/HiSET. CPS training is provided in Massachusetts by the Transformation Center, along with its partner organization, Kiva Centers in Central Massachusetts. (https://transformation-center.org/home/training/certified-peer-specialists/). This training is free of charge, but, given the high demand for this training and the competitive admission process, interested candidates are advised to obtain experience as a volunteer or paid peer supporter before applying.

Opportunities to become a peer volunteer or paid peer supporter include:

  • Volunteering at places such as a local Recovery Learning Community, the Massachusetts Chapter of NAMI or any of its affiliates, a local group of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), and other community-based mental health organizations like The Cole Resource Center, state-wide Club Houses or local shelters and safe houses.
  • Preparing for volunteering or employment by attending trainings in group facilitation, such as Intentional Peer Support (IPS), Hearing Voices Network (HVN), Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP), Whole Health Action Management (WHAM), Alternatives to Suicide, Motivational Interviewing, Emotional CPR and Digital Peer Support (DPS).
  • Looking on the Transformation Center Website for entry level paid jobs which do not require CPS certification.
  • Researching paid peer support positions on employment search engines such as Indeed.com.
  • Connecting with organizations like the Salvation Army and food pantries or soup kitchens.

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track peer support specialist positions specifically, (these are lumped together with community health workers), the 2016 annual salaries for these positions were $37,330 for full time work. Many part time jobs are also available.

How can I get connected to a CPS or other Peer Support?
Peer support is a growing occupation in the mental health care system today. Peer supporters work in diverse settings and can have many different titles depending upon location, organization and certification. Peer supporters can be titled Certified Peer Specialists, (CPS), Recovery Coaches, Family Partners, Peer Counselors, Peer Support Specialists, Certified Older Adult Peer Specialists (COAPS), Forensic Peer Specialists, or Peer Mentors.

Peer support can be found through:

  • Providers who are contracted by DMH, (DMH services may be required)
  • Peer-run young adult access centers and advocacy networks
  • DMH-funded RLCs, where all are welcome
  • DMH-funded community-based mental health care service providers
  • The Veteran’s Administration System
    Crisis stabilization units and respites
    Local local substance use and mental health care centers
  • Human service organizations
  • Hospital emergency rooms
  • Inpatient and partial hospitalization programs
  • Warmlines
  • Mental health courts

If you would like guidance on how to select what type of peer support options are available to you, please contact your local Recovery Learning Community, (RLC). Contact information for each RLC can be found on the Transformation Website, (transformation-center.org).

Ryan Markley, CPS
Open Sky Community Services
Peer Consultant, MGH COE