Imagine having someone who has faced similar obstacles and overcome them walk beside you on your journey. That is what the peer support team at Breakthrough does. As they offer support and tools to guests at the Women’s Center who are experiencing homelessness or crisis, the peer supporters’ own stories model recovery and instill hope.

Peer Support Fosters Wellness

Every individual who resides in Breakthrough’s shelters or visits our support centers partners with our Behavioral Health team to seek holistic wellness. Our staff develops treatment plans, provides on-site therapy, and gives referrals to help guests move from crisis to stability. 

A new and integral part of the team is peer support. According to the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), a peer support specialist is an individual with the lived experience of recovery from a mental health or substance use disorder, trained to help others by providing support as they move forward in their own wellness journey. 

In partnership with the DBSA Peer Specialist Apprentice Program, peer support interns Aquarius, Nicole, and Sheila have helped implement the program at Breakthrough and supported their peers’ behavioral health goals by providing evidence-based services.

“Peer support is the process of taking our personal experiences…and offering tips, guidance, hope, support, advocacy, anything that our peers need to get on the other side of that situation,” Aquarius says. “We mentor people, we hold one-on-one conversations with them, and we create intentional plans with them to reach specific goals.”

Supporting Each Other and Building Relationships

The lack of support and empathy the peer supporters experienced on their own journeys is part of what brought them to this work. Nicole says, “One of the reasons I decided to become a peer support specialist was because, coming through my journey of mental health, I really didn’t have any support walking beside me.” 

Behavioral Health Peer Support Team Instills Hope for Recovery 1
Peer Support Interns Nicole, Aquarius, and Sheila.

Their personal experiences allow them to uniquely help others and offer valuable tools and services. This includes mentorship, meditation, and WHAM (Whole Health Action Management) class, which covers physical wellness topics such as eating habits and sleep. 

They also build relationships with guests, case managers, and the clinical care team so the women who come through Breakthrough’s doors are surrounded by a network of support. In this position, the peer support interns are able to advocate for guests and support in decisions.

“When we bring a peer support specialist in with lived experience it helps to bridge the gap between the primary care provider, the care team, and the individual,” Nicole says. 

Though they lacked similar encouragement, the peer supporters know that their own journeys are ongoing. Aquarius said that they now access their own wellness through their community engagement at Breakthrough. “I get to watch other people thrive, and they get to watch me thrive, and we get to support each others’ journeys,” she says.

Stories of Recovery Instill Hope

As people who have walked similar paths, peer supporters instill hope for recovery. Nicole said one of the most important things she has been able to do during her internship at Breakthrough is share her own story. 

“When I tell somebody my story, they say ‘I would have never known.’ You would never know, and I think that instills hope in other people,” she says. “They’re intrigued, but also just letting them know that you can recover too. You have a recovery journey also, and it’s what you make it be.”

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Aquarius, peer support intern, waters ‘seeds of hope’ planted by guests at the Women’s Center.

“I heard this acronym for HOPE,” Nicole says. “It goes, ‘hold on pain ends.’” The peer supporters’ stories are a beacon of this encouragement.

Reflecting on her journey of homelessness and substance use disorder recovery, Sheila says, “Being here reminds me of how far I have come and the accomplishments I have had. And I know if I can do it, my trials and tribulations may not be theirs and theirs may not be mine, but life itself. If I can do it, so can they.”

“What was freely given to me I’m freely giving it away,” she says. “None of this would be possible if not for the grace of God.”