In mental health, people with profound mental health experiences or challenges have always given each other informal support and received it from each other.

The value that peer support has had in the recoveries of many individuals with mental illness has received recognition in recent years by state governments including Pennsylvania. This has brought about efforts to create formalized peer support services for individuals who use mental health services.

Peer support has been identified as a key component to change as Pennsylvania transforms its public mental health system to become fully recovery oriented. Pennsylvania’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) identified peer support as an important promising practice in its document A Call for Change: Toward a Recovery-Oriented Mental Health Service System for Adults.

OMHSAS has identified the implementation, planning, and expansion of peer specialist services as a priority in its statewide transformation goals.

The Certified Peer Specialist Initiative

The Certified Peer Specialist Initiative was launched in 2004 by Pennsylvania’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS). Peer support had been recognized as one method of helping to transform mental health services from a medical model to a recovery oriented system.

At that time OMHSAS contracted with two vendors to provide certified peer specialist training to mental health consumers. They were the Institute for Recovery, a program of Mental Health Partnerships, and RI Consulting. In 2019 a third vendor, the Copeland Center for Wellness and Recovery was added.

Peer support services were added to Pennsylvania’s Medicaid State Plan in 2007. Every county or county joinder in Pennsylvania is now required to make peer support services, provided by Certified Peer Specialists (CPS), available to mental health consumers with Medicaid insurance.

As of January 2021 Pennsylvania had 2490 CPSs, 1630 CRSs, and 265 CFRSs credentialed through the Pennsylvania Certification Board with many more who have completed the training.

The Evolution of Peer Support

  • January 2021: Testing for the CPS and CRS credentials through the PCB is offered online for the first time.
  • March 2018: Formal certification process established with the Pennsylvania Certification Board (PCB) taking over the administration of all PA CPS credentialing.
  • Early 2015: OMHSAS received a federal grant and partnered with the Coalition, Temple University, Allegheny County, and Delaware County to develop a new training for CPSs to work in crisis services.
  • July 2013: The PA Peer Support Coalition becomes an independent 501(c)3 organization and the Steering Committee becomes a Board of Directors.
  • May 2011: A train-the-trainer course for Peer Support in the Criminal Justice System was held. 26 individuals completed the course.
  • Fall 2010: PMHCA and Drexel University received funding to further develop and provide Peer Support within the Criminal Justice System trainings. The trainings began occurring statewide.
  • Spring 2010: A memorandum of understanding was signed by OMHSAS and the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR). This memorandum allows local OVR offices to help fund CPS trainings.
  • May 2009: A continuing education training about peer support within the criminal justice system, developed through collaboration among OMHSAS, the Main Link, and the PA Peer Support Coalition, was piloted for peer specialists.
  • January 2009: The first elected Steering Committee for the PA Peer Support Coalition was seated.
  • Spring 2008: OMHSAS and the University of Pennsylvania piloted continuing education training for peer specialists working with older adults.
  • January 2008: The Interim Steering Committee for the PA Peer Support Coalition was formed and began to meet on a regular basis to lay the groundwork for the Coalition.
  • July 18-19, 2007: The Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association (PMHCA) and OMHSAS held a two-day summit on the topic of Consumer-Driven Services. The purpose of the summit was to identify a priority project to be advanced through the use of New Freedom Initiative grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Peer leaders from across Pennsylvania chose peer support as the priority project, and identified the need for a statewide Peer Support Coalition.
  • February 22, 2007: Peer Support Services were incorporated into the Pennsylvania Medicaid State Plan, with approval from CMS, providing a mechanism for billing Medicaid for the delivery of Peer Support Services and requiring that the service be available in every county/joinder in Pennsylvania.
  • 2005-2006: Technical assistance for the PS Initiative began. Peer specialist training classes continue.
  • 2004: OMHSAS was awarded a three-year Mental Health Systems Transformation Grant from the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The grant provided for the development of a training curriculum and peer certification process known as the PA Peer Specialist Initiative (PSI). The first peer specialist training classes occurred in Montgomery County