The Power of Peer Support

New program gives back to those in recovery

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Among the very first peer recovery coaches certified in Alaska, Peer Recovery Coordinator Donteh DeVoe (left) and Alumni Services Manager Michael Mooradian provide support, feedback and guidance through a new peer support and workforce development program for those in recovery from alcohol and substance abuse.

Imagine walking into a world where everyone is rooting for you. When you grab a meal at a restaurant, the cook understands your problems. If you get angry or frustrated, your neighbor knows exactly why. Your boss, your doctor, your bus driver—they all understand you completely, and they’re all pulling for you to succeed.

That’s exactly the kind of environment CITC’s Recovery Services department is striving to create for those in recovery from alcohol and substance abuse with its new Peer Recovery Support network. The “peers” who make up the network are individuals who have experienced both substance abuse and the recovery process.

Peer workers don’t replace case managers or mental health clinicians. Instead, they act as supplemental support, offering guidance and connecting those in recovery with services they need. Having been through the recovery process themselves, peer workers have experience and perspective that professional training can’t replicate.

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Michael Mooradian, manager of Recovery Alumni Services, coordinates an alumni group, open to anyone who has completed any of the Recovery Service Department programs.

“A lot of times, those in recovery see people in the clinical setting as part of the ‘system,’” said Michael Mooradian, manager of Recovery Alumni Services. “But a peer worker who has had that same experience and has struggled with those same problems—they can meet that person where they are, relate to them and gain some credibility for the services we provide.”

CITC’s approach to peer support services is two-pronged. Mooradian coordinates an alumni group, open to anyone who has completed any of the Recovery Services programs. The group provides ongoing support to program graduates and presents them with opportunities to give back to those currently in recovery.

Already, CITC recovery program alums have provided free job training and other critical support services for participants, including reentry assistance through programs like Chanlyut and the Alaska Native Justice Center.

“It’s been proven that those people who stay connected with the programs that gave them a foundation for their recovery have long-term success,” Mooradian explained. “We’ve been able to offer a lot because of the wonderful things our alumni are doing.”

Peer Recovery Coordinator Donteh DeVoe is organizing a peer workforce that will be integrated into the Recovery Services continuum.

Peer Recovery Coordinator Donteh DeVoe is organizing a peer workforce that will be integrated into the Recovery Services continuum.

In addition to the alumni group, Peer Recovery Coordinator Donteh DeVoe is organizing a peer workforce that will be integrated into the Recovery Services continuum.

Director of Recovery Services Rebecca Ling anticipates employing four peer workers who will be paired with recovery program participants to supplement work by case managers and mental health clinicians.

“A peer worker will be able to engage an individual in community support more often than someone who doesn’t understand what recovery meetings are all about, what recovery is like, what the 12 Steps mean,” Ling said.

Already, CITC has successfully facilitated a two-day certification for almost 70 new peer recovery coaches who can work in the community. Both DeVoe and Mooradian were among the very first peer recovery coaches to be certified in Alaska.

But CITC’s peer network reaches beyond formal support, Mooradian explained. “We have peers working on our administrative staff, or who are certified nursing assistants in our detox facility, or who work as support staff, like our chef at the Ernie Turner Center.”

“They may not walk around with a sign on their back that says, ‘I’m a peer,’ but the people who come into contact with them know that these are folks who will listen to them and know what they’re going through. We strategically place those people wherever we can.”

By constantly coming into contact with people who empathize with their journey to recovery, former addicts gain access to a network of people who can offer support, feedback and guidance. It also gives them something to strive for, said DeVoe.

“They may not walk around with a sign on their back that says, ‘I’m a peer,’ but the people who come into contact with them know that these are folks who will listen to them and know what they’re going through.” —Michael Mooradian

“If they can see that I’ve been successful, they believe they can be, too. As a peer, I can tell them what to look out for, pitfalls they’re going to encounter, who to connect with and things to stay away from,” he said.

“There’s a host of things working against them in recovery and when they come out of the prison system—they’re basically starting life over again. So we help them make that transition more smoothly.”

Without that assistance, those in recovery or being released from incarceration face difficult odds: Roughly 63 percent of offenders find themselves back in prison within three years of their initial release. “But if they’re engaged in peer support or other support groups, that number goes down to about 30 percent,” DeVoe said. “We aim to get that number even lower.”

In addition to impacting recidivism in Alaska, peer support can contribute to increased employment by directing participants to job training resources and employment opportunities. It also helps reduce crime and homelessness, as peer workers pair up with participants and equip them with basic life skills like budgeting, applying for jobs and finding housing.

“We don’t just want to point them in the right direction,” DeVoe explained. “We want to actively help them through peer support to get what they need to succeed.”