Georgia's Certified Peer Specialist Project


            NYAPRS Note: Following is a piece on Georgia's very progressive and impressive peer specialist project, which has innovatively used Medicaid funding to bring the promise of recovery to recipients of Georgia's public mental health service system.

Certified Peer Specialists (CPSs) are responsible for the implementation of peer support services, which are Medicaid reimbursable under Georgia's new Rehab Option. Certified Peer Specialists also serve on Assertive Community Treatment Teams (ACT) and on Community Support Teams (CST).  The Peer Specialist Certification Project conducts ongoing training at least two times a year and holds quarterly continuing education seminars and workshops for those already certified  who are required to stay abreast of emerging best practices in mental health recovery.

A natural outgrowth of the 1999 Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health has been the realization of the value of peer-to-peer support in the acquisition of real recovery. Certified Peer Specialists provide hope and serve as role models to every consumer they serve. As paid employees of our public and private providers, CPSs neatly transition ownership of the program into the hands of the consumers seeking services in peer support programs.

A portion of the Georgia Certified Peer Specialist Project is funded through a grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services. This federal grant is administered through the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network, in collaboration with the State Office of Consumer Relations.

Key to the successful implementation of CPSs in service delivery roles in consumer operated Peer Centers, in Peer Supports, and on ACT and CST teams is the understanding of what creates recovery and how to build environments conducive to recovery in peer support services. This role is not interchangeable with traditional staff who usually work from the perspective of their training and or their status as licensed health care providers.

Certified Peer Specialists work from the perspective of “having been there.” They lend unique insight into mental illness and what makes recovery possible. The training and certification process prepares CPSs to promote hope, personal responsibility, empowerment, education, and self-determination in the communities in which they serve.

Certified Peer Specialists are part of the shift that is taking place in the Georgia Mental Health System from one that focuses on the individual's illness to one that focuses on the individual's strength. Recovery is no longer only about what clinicians do to consumers. It has become, with the assistance of CPSs, what consumers do for themselves and each other.

Thus, CPSs are trained to assist consumers in skills building, goal setting, problem solving, conducting Recovery Dialogues, setting up and sustaining mutual self-help groups, and in helping consumers build their own self-directed recovery tools, including the WRAP. A critical role is supporting consumers in developing an ISP (Individualized Service/Recovery Plan) that has their recovery goals and specific steps to obtain to reach those goals.

Further requirements of certification include understanding the structure of the Georgia mental health system, client rights, cultural competency, confidentiality and APS Healthcare (Georgia’s External Review organization) charting.

Consumers who are interested in becoming a Certified Peer Specialist complete applications  through the Georgia Certified Peer Specialist Project manager. Candidates are selected for the training based on their employment status and the ability to meet the training guidelines.

Consumers who are currently employed by a public or private provider of Medicaid billable services are highest priority. A consumer who has distinguished himself or herself as a peer leader and is being sponsored by a Medicaid provider for possible hire is given next priority. Consumers who work within a peer service that does not bill Medicaid or consumers who are seeking certification to improve their marketability are given subsequent priority. This system was devised to assist program providers in meeting the guidelines that have been set by Medicaid.


Reprinted from  Mental Health E-News December 30, 2003