Reflecting on the Philosophy of Peer Work

By Patrick Roff

What do really we do as a CPRS? We open ourselves up and give ourselves away….fully, deeply, intimately.  We go “there” with people, in a way clinicians and loved ones cannot; we meet individuals where they are and do not demand change. Moreover, the recoverees are the makers of their own change and we can either try to help keep them safe where they are or use motivational interviewing techniques to move them from one stage of change to another, as long as they agree to engage with us. Depending upon the circumstances, the method can be fast or slow, always requiring mutual identification, reciprocity and respect. However, as stated in the previous blog, the issue I think we need to first address is an ethical one. As our Director of Recovery Services Erika Shortway said to me a long time ago, in our CPRS trainings we teach way more than skill sets and ideology we also teach and role model “a CPRS way of life”. In other words, being a CPRS is fundamental to one’s personal identity. It has to be, we use our lived experience to others, our personal lived experience. We are always all on call for people in need as well as for each other as a team; either way, someone will be there to help 24/7. The best peer work is done when we identify with another, not simply deliver pre-scripted lines with pre-determined outcomes. We work in live circumstances, we learn a craft and then improvise within the craft. In grant terms: We are the deliverable. If there is no honest and open peer to peer mutual identification (of any kind, at any time), if no connection is established, we pray at least we planted a seed. Moreover, the person we help decides the outcome and if we help them achieve that outcome, we have succeeded.

In being the deliverable, we must accept someone who wants no help, which can be heartbreaking in and of itself, then the hope is to plant a seed in their minds and hearts, just enough to help that person survive another day. We must also contend with the all to frequent reality that even though we do our best to journey with someone toward recovery – however they define it – that person can die a week later.

Ethically, the best way I could try to make sense of the great phrase, “the CPRS way of life” is to articulate a boundary between a “Professional Recovery Identity”, that is separate but not distinct from one’s “Personal Recovery Identity”. A Personal Recovery Identity is simply how the unique CPRS works recovery principles into their life in a broad and self-defined fashion; principles of wellness, self-examination and self-care; following Socrates charge to “know thyself”.  A “Professional Recovery Identity” is, as Recovery Manager Emily Monks said to me recently, is to become “a walking embodiment of the CPRS manual”.  When helping others a good way to start is by using the expertise of SAMHSA’s definitions of recovery, four domains of recovery and principles of recovery (https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/recovery). There is also extensive expertise and research delivered in the CPRS curriculum through the IC&RC learning domains; mentoring and education, wellness and recovery and ethical responsibilities (https://internationalcredentialing.org/). The most important ethical concept, however, is boundary management: Knowing where your professional recovery identity ends and where your personal recovery boundary begins, asking yourself and your team what your motivations are, knowing not to get attached to outcomes but love the process in of itself and, finally,  knowing what is practical, kind and possible for not only the person you are helping but also for yourself.