The NAMI Illinois Alliance of Peer Professionals promotes the development and advancement of peer professionals and peer based services in Illinois.


  • Empower Peers to Transform the Healthcare System with Key Programs and Services
  • Advance the Healthcare Profession with Leadership Roles in Multiple Sectors
  • Advocate for Consumers and Individuals Receiving Services


The NAMI Illinois Alliance of Peer Professionals acts as a link between individuals receiving services, mental health providers, policy makers and peer professionals. It provides an opportunity for certified peer professionals working in the mental health field to advocate for the growth and development of peer-based services. The alliance strives to contribute to advancing the field of peer practitioners by communicating the needs and opinions of the group to those that create the training process, professional standards and ethical practices.  Members support and mentor potential peer professionals, seek continuing education to improve the quality of services and promote the value of peer professionals as a part of individual treatment plans.

I chose to participate in NIAPP, because my observation is that in Illinois, and maybe elsewhere, peer counseling professionals are not given the jobs, promotions and pay they deserve, and have worked hard for. I can’t speak for every-one in our profession, so I wouldn’t suggest that we all want to become mental health agen-cy directors. I can first suggest that performing the jobs we do, we should have a greater voice in how we do them, and how we are compensated with pay and benefits. Oh, did I say that many full-time peer counselors don’t even get benefits??? Also, it’s my experience that peer workers can often perform counseling functions as well as licensed workers; some-times even do better.



From 2012—2014, I worked as a Crisis Counselor in a state funded Living Room. While most of the clients there are covered by Medicaid; not all are. Some have no insurance, while others are covered by the county or private insurance. However, as unlicensed peer workers, our agency received Medicaid reimbursement for our work. We received a reasona-ble hourly wage.


While there, a team of researchers spent time with us. They interviewed our clinical staff overseeing our work, as well as each of the crisis counselors (including me), and many guests. They developed a 9-page research paper for a nursing association, which is now available for purchase through that nursing association. However, a brief version of the paper can be read here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140107170555.htm.


Their conclusions included:

  • Our work provided better results than when people in crisis, mostly with mental illness, went to emergency rooms.
  • We saved the state a lot of money in Medicaid expenditures.
  • The clients preferred coming to us, rather than going to the emergency room.
  • Those who needed high levels of care could still be taken to the hospital from our facili-ty. There were very few who needed to. (Note: not one of my clients ever needed to go there.)



As of 2016,all but 5 states have established programs to train and certify peer specialists. In Illinois, we receive Medicaid reimbursement, working for a Medicaid approved provider. We are paid for more than half the functions which licensed professionals also perform. See link for states; click a state for program information. https://www.center4healthandsdc.org/map-of-national-peer-training-programs.html.



I recently met two professionals from New York through a webinar, who work leading peer professionals. I asked them about their opinions on this topic. They are Curtis Dann-Messier, and Rita Cronise (her comments on the next page). Following is part of what they said.


Curtis Dann-Messier, Director, Peer & Community Health WorkersWorkforce Consortium


“Peer workers are uniquely positioned to support the individuals they serve, because their shared lived experience help them to develop a trusting relationship that is at the heart of helping people on their path to recovery.Once this trusting relationship is es-tablished, peer support staff help individuals create wellness plans, stay on these plans, and ultimately live their best life.Peers play important roles in preventative care that is ul-timately cost saving for the system.Peer workers also help to de-stigmatize mental health and substance use challenges that too often go untreated, wreaking havoc on both individu-als and societies.There are a multitude of studies that show the perniciousness of untreat-ed mental health and behavioral health diseases, as well as the efficacy of peer services in supporting recovery.Peers can and should play a central role in helping people heal. . . . Peer support services should be an easily-available Medicaid-billable service in every municipality across the country.”


Rita Cronise, Faculty-Rutgers Univ., Academy of Peer Services, Virtual Commu-nity Coordinator


“While it is true there are many similarities (between peer support and licensed clinical work), there are also important distinctions between peer support services and social work/case management.First and foremost is the requirement for lived experience. It is a defining characteristic of peer support, but it is neither required nor (in many locations) desired in social work.


Peer specialists operate under a mutual support non-clinical set of values and principles. The person receiving services is the expert on his or her own life. In peer support, sharing personal experiences through reciprocal self-disclosure is essential to building trust and credibility in the relationship.And this cre-atesdifferences in professional boundaries.In social work and case management, communication flows from the licensed professional as the expert to the recipient who is expected to comply with the professional's advice. In peer support, the pow-er dynamic shifts to people who are equals, and that leaves more room for explora-tion about what works best for the person and the peer support relationship.Peer specialists work with people on recognizing their strengths and the things in their lives that are already working (recovery capital), as well as finding natural sup-ports in the community in areas where they need extra help. In other words, so-cial work and case management is about finding fish to feed people and peer support is about teaching people to fish.

(My comment: that final statement makes peer support more important!)


That said, there are many wonderful aspects of social work and case management that are complementary to peer support. Advocacy, fighting for social and econom-ic justice, attention to diversity, problem solving, using research and evidence based practices to determine a course of action for a person, deep caring and com-passion. All of these attributes of social work and case management work extreme-ly well side by side with peer support. But they are not peer support.


While I don't disagree people with lived experience can do work that is similar to social workers and case managers, which is vital work, it isn't peer support for the reasons outlined above. Medicaid may pay people with peer support credentials to perform social work or case management functions."




My conclusions: I have a way to go before convincing the entire mental health profession that I (and other peer professionals) can be a good, or better, counselor than licensed professionals. You see, they don’t know what I know. I have learned how to provide therapy to myself, and used these skills previously at my mental health jobs with my clients. I could go on, providing the content of a long resume, but I won’t.


And maybe I’ll never be accepted for what I want to do. I also aspire to be an ad-vocate for clients & peer workers. But if nothing else, I WILL make it easier for those who follow me.



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