The State of Washington, through its Division of Behavioral Health & Recovery, trains those who live with behavioral disabilities to have a career as Peer Counselors. This is a very different concept then what was practice before the Mental Health Act of 1963 and changes the picture of community behavioral health services. Before our modern era, the idea of incorporating someone with a psychiatric impairment into professional treatment services would have never happened. Thankfully times have changed and today the presence of peer counselors bring a strong message of hope and resiliently. As individuals in recovery and consumers of community behavioral health services, the work oriented day for peer counselors is very therapeutic and builds their self-esteem in ways that clinical treatment programs cannot.
Under the Peer Counselor umbrella you will find many individuals serving as paraprofessionals in a variety of fields. Some individuals serve as peer mentors (coaches), these are professional relationships that can last for several years; some serve as peer specialists in inpatient facilities or other specialized programs; while others serve as peer bridgers, these are often short term professional relationships that assist individuals existing inpatient services; and there are many more occupations under this umbrella.
One of these additional occupations is that of a peer crisis intervention counselor, these individuals serve as a member of a crisis response team. Throughout the landscape crisis response teams are being created to assist First Responders involved with crisis incidents that involve an individual whose mental health is severely compromised. These teams play a critical role at these incidents, because they can assess the psychological health of individuals and address their immediate needs.
Peers who are members of these crisis response teams perform a variety tasks, both in the office and in the field. In the office, they write reports, record entries into logs, participate in team meetings, and assist with team readiness for crisis calls and responses. Team cohesiveness and preparation is very important to the mission of any crisis response team, because when the team can respond to an incident safely and effectively individuals in crisis can receive appropriate care.
When the team is at an incident, these peer counselors are typically under the supervision of a Mental Health Professional. Because the role of a Mental Health Professional is to perform a field assessment of the mental health of an individual, the peer counselor preforms any task or responsibility that would interfere with the assessment. True to the very nature of a peer counselor, at every incident they offer their fellow peer attention and support. During the short time span they have with a person in crisis, they encourage them to accept services and activities that will help them reach greater levels stability and recovery.
These crisis response teams are not clinical programs that have a scheduled routine and programs. Their shifts can be very unpredictable and the people in crisis can be extremely unstable and potentially dangerous to themselves and others. In this context, these teams have more in common with a fire station than they do with a clinical program. Like a fire station, these teams have routine duties that need to be performed, but they are often interrupted by a crisis call. Every fire or medical emergency that fire stations receive is different and presents its own challenges, this is the same for crisis teams. Every call to a crisis team is uniquely its own and requires the full attention of every team member.
The individuals of the team bring different skills and abilities that enhance and strengthens the team. The mental health professionals bring their clinical training and field experiences and the peer crisis intervention counselors bring their recovery experiences and training to the team.
In closing, any peer counselor who is looking for a challenging and very rewarding occupation under the Peer Counselor umbrella, I would encourage them to research the possibility of working as a peer crisis intervention counselor. Although I will strongly emphasize this, you should only consider this if you are by nature a team oriented person and have an outgoing personality. It is a great way of working side by side with highly skilled mental health professionals in a team environment.