Recovery Services staff are the state’s first Peer Support Specialists to earn a new certification offered by the Alaska State Division of Behavioral Health
Peer support is woven into the fabric of CITC’s programs. Whether you come to CITC looking to take Life Skills workshops, seeking help to reunify your family, or start your journey toward recovery, odds are, you will find someone who has been in your shoes.
CITC’s Recovery Services department, in particular, has been at the forefront of the peer support movement since about 2015. That year, Recovery Services launched its alumni program, Defenders of Sobriety, which offers support to people in treatment through peer mentorship. Since then, the Recovery Services peer support staff has grown to a team of twelve.
The peer recovery support movement emphasizes services that are delivered and designed by people who have experienced both substance use and recovery. Studies show that peer recovery support services are highly effective at decreasing hospital and inpatient stays among individuals in recovery and reducing the overall cost of services. Individuals who engage with peer services experience a significant decrease in substance use.
This April, three of CITC’s peer support specialists became the first individuals in the state of Alaska to earn the new Peer Support Specialist Certification offered by the Alaska Commission on Behavioral Health Certification (ACBHC).
“It’s a testament to the fact that our peer support specialists don’t just talk recovery, but walk the walk,” said CITC Recovery Services Peer and Engagement Manager Sasha Tsurnos, pointing out that earning certification requires applicants to complete paperwork detailing their recovery journey, including how they maintain their recovery and what their support system looks like.
Certification applicants must also provide three recommendations, take trainings on ethics, boundaries, and risk reduction, and complete 40 hours of approved recovery coaching.
CITC Peer Support Specialist Sam Garcia was the first individual in the state of Alaska to earn his Peer Support Specialist Certification. He was followed closely by colleagues Adam Allard and James Savage.
“To be certified as a peer professional marks great growth for me personally,” said James. “Aligning Alaska with national standards is something that has taken years in the planning and implementation stages, and it’s amazing to have been a part of it and see it to completion.”
At this time, six of the twelve peer support specialists employed by CITC’s Recovery Services department have completed the new certification.
Serendipitously, prior to the ACBHC certification, CITC Recovery Services had already provided recovery coaching through the McShin Foundation.
“We offered that training years ago to several non-CITC staff who have since come to work for us,” Sasha commented. “When this certification came along, it really aligned with what our team was already doing. The certification is very validating, acknowledging the work our peers have been doing for years.”
In addition to supporting peer certifications among their own staff, CITC Recovery Services offered oversight to other organizations to help their employees gain certification, as well.
“The Division has been very grateful for the efforts of the CITC staff who have already built a vibrant Peer Support staff and training program,” said Jim McLaughlin, Behavioral Health Grant Program Manager for the Division of Behavioral Health. “CITC staff have made major contributions to the statewide trainings being offered.”
Sasha sees Peer Support certification as yet another milestone in the success of the peer movement and a testament to CITC’s mission in developing opportunities that fulfill the endless potential of our people.
“It’s hard to put into words, the joy around where the movement is going, not just for individuals in recovery, but for peer support specialists,” she said. “They’re helping to ensure that no one falls through the cracks and that all individuals in recovery, regardless of culture, age, ethnicity, are accepted as peers, and there’s someone who can relate to that person and encourage and motivate them on their path to recovery.”