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Intentional Peer Supports

Issue 17

Changing the world one relationship at a time

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time, but if your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.   – Lilla Watson, Aboriginal Activist

At a time when the United States was rife with social justice movements including civil rights, disability rights, women’s liberation and gay liberation, the Consumer/Survivor/Ex-patient movement emerged.

On the first day of Intentional Peer Support Core Training we discuss this quote. In many ways the mental health system has a history steeped in the colonization of Consumers/Survivors/Ex-Patients.

This colonization has led to coercion, forced treatment and little hope for a future filled with purpose and joy.

This movement demands autonomy for those who seek support from the service delivery systems.

The Consumer/Survivor/Ex-Patient movement has led to substantial changes for the recipients of services. This includes the Rights of Recipients of Mental Health Services, community inclusion, and the emergence of peer support and paid peer support roles.

When former mental health system patient Shery Mead developed Intentional Peer Support (IPS) in the 1990s in New Hampshire, it was with a vision of Consumer/ Survivors/Ex-Patients collaborating to develop a mental health system that would be informed by the people who used it.

In Maine, Intentional Peer Support Specialists work within and outside of the current paradigm to inform change.

Within the system, CIPSS (Certified Intentional Peer Support Specialists) work alongside traditional mental health providers and use their lived experience and training to connect with people living with the effects of trauma, mental health issues, and/or substance use.

Often in treatment plans we see a plan that includes developing natural supports. What we don’t see is a plan to help each other learn what it means to be a friend, to become a person that others can connect and relate to. Practicing IPS begins by the first task: Building Connection.

To do this, we must build trust.

We demonstrate that we are willing to be vulnerable, to share our experiences and to validate the experiences of the other. We honor this trust by valuing “Nothing About Us Without Us,” a term that “expresses the conviction of people with disabilities that they know what is best for them.” This chant became the rallying cry for the Disability Rights Movement.

Because CIPSS value the sanctity of the personal story, we build a trust where people often share in ways they’ve never shared with anyone before. Our relationship grows and we have a willingness to sit with the discomfort of having difficult conversations.

We respond to discomfort by sharing what is happening for us, “I’m afraid” rather than telling people what to do (calm down, you need to breathe), or what is “appropriate” (No swearing!). As trust builds, we’re able to go to a “place” that leads to healing and the creation of lives worth living.

Utilizing IPS, we practice healthy relationships where both people learn to ask for what they need and to negotiate how to make that happen. Many of us didn’t grow up surrounded by people who modeled healthy interactions. Our peer support relationships may be the first time we’ve experienced an authentic connection. We learn what it means to be a friend and then develop natural supports, our community.

Currently IPS is practiced in Maine’s state psychiatric hospitals, at peer centers, on behavioral health home teams, assertive community treatment teams, peer recovery centers, emergency departments, residential programs, the youth peer support state-wide network, on our state-wide warm line and more.

CIPSS are, as Mead says, “Changing the world one relationship at a time.”

To learn more about Intentional Peer Support Training in Maine, go to, https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/obh/training-certification/intentional-peer-support or send an e-mail to [email protected].

If you would like to participate in the Consumer/Survivor/Ex-Patient Movement, reach out to the Consumer Council System of Maine. “The Consumer Council System of Maine represents fellow consumers with an effective, organized voice in shaping public policy and mental health services.” To learn more, go to, https://maineccsm.org/.

To learn more about Disability Rights in Maine, click here.


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