Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Reflections on a Milestone: 100 Peer Specialist Graduates, and Counting!

Today's guest post is from Shana Averbach, LMFT, Coordinator of the Peer Specialist Mental Health Certificate program being offered by RAMS and San Francisco State University Dept. of Counseling. Started in Fall 2010, the Certificate Program's goal is "to prepare consumers and/or family members with the basic skills & knowledge for entry-level employment in the behavioral health system of care and with academic/career planning that supports success in institutions of higher learning". 

It is with great enthusiasm that we announce a major milestone for the Peer Specialist Mental Health Certificate Program: With the recent graduation of 13 students from the program’s eighth cohort, our total number of graduates from the course has passed 100! This is no small feat for the program that was constructed from the ground up in 2010 and has continued to grow and flourish over the following four years.

The most recent cohort graduated June 19th at the San Francisco State University Downtown Campus, the same location where it spent the prior 12 weeks learning about the basic tenets of community behavioral health treatment. Equipped with new knowledge to add to their already valuable lived experience with mental health and/or substance use treatment and recovery, many are already exploring job and volunteer opportunities in the peer professional community.

Joining in the celebration were students’ direct supporters – friends, family members, social workers, neighbors, and bosses (to name a few!). Also in attendance were many of the course’s guest lecturers, and representatives from agencies who continually invite students to shadow their work as part of the course’s 8-hour required field observation assignment. And of course, a number of the 100+ alumni from previous cohorts were present – proudly sporting ribbons of gold and purple to indicate their status as members of this pioneering course. Everyone was invited to write one personal “wellness ingredient,” and these flavors of wellness adorned the room for all to share.

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Dr. Rob Williams, Chair of SF State Dept. of Counseling
As is often the case with milestones, having 100+ graduates evokes a time of reflection on what makes this program successful. There are certainly outcomes that the program can point to – such as knowing that the majority of its graduates actively engage in work, volunteer, and educational opportunities as a direct result of taking the course – that are good indicators that the program is successfully meeting its objectives. But it’s the overall integrity of the program that stands out as a success; In other words, on any given day, the program is truly abiding by the principles on which it was founded.

Funded by the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), The Peer Specialist Mental Health Certificate Program is proudly rooted in its guiding principles, which include the following:

Community Collaboration: Every aspect of the course – from outreach to curriculum development and delivery to quality control - is immersed in collaboration between community behavioral health agencies and peer input. The spirit of togetherness is felt in ongoing networking events, professional development, and celebrations such as the graduation described above. The success of the program hinges on the success of the collaboration.

Cultural Competence: Course curriculum includes a cultural competency focus from day one, and program participants – and later direct peer service providers - represent cultures and languages as diverse as the city we serve. Cultural competence isn’t a side note; it’s center stage.

Focus on Wellness: In this course as in the field of peer professionals, the Wellness and Recovery Model leads the way. Whether addressing stigma and inviting hope by sharing lived experience or rejoining and rebuilding life in the community by engaging in the course and/or the workforce, participants in this program live and breathe the empowering message “I did it and so can you.” This message grows exponentially each and every time it’s delivered, and it is delivered often.

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So, in saluting our most recent graduates and our vibrant community of alumni, we acknowledge each and every person who has helped along the way. Here’s to the next 100!

Are you or someone you know interested in being trained as a peer professional? 
Applications for the Fall 2014 term will be released soon in July! 
Go to to stay in the loop!

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