Tennessee is part of a nationwide movement to support people in recovery. Peer support is an established and proven method of helping people cope with trauma, mental health conditions, behavioral health addictions or a history of substance use. A peer support specialist, or recovery coach, is a person who has personal, lived experience with recovery and is trained to support others on their recovery journeys.
A person can’t become a peer recovery coach without going through the challenges of recovery on their own. It is a position that is only open to people in recovery. Recovery coaches work in both volunteer and paid positions. It is a meaningful career for anyone who wants to use their personal recovery experiences to assist those in need of support.
The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services oversees the Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (CPRS) program. To become a CPRS, Tenneseeans must meet some qualifying criteria, participate in an authorized training program, work in a peer recovery position with appropriate supervision and commit to following the CPRS Code of Ethics.
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, a CPRS is “a person who has lived experience of a mental illness, substance use disorder or co-occurring disorder, who has made the journey from illness to wellness, and who now wishes to help others.”
Two steps to certification must be taken in the following order.
Step 1 for Certification
The first requirement is to complete the mandatory 40-hour training program. This training will address: “recovery, communication, values, ethics, motivation, co-occurring disorders, trauma-informed care and wellness.”
To register for the CPRS training course, prospective coaches must fill out an online application.
One part of the application requires prospective coaches to answer a series of personal questions. You can expect to see these exact questions on the application:
- Describe how your personal recovery journey helped you get where you are today.
- What are some things you do regularly to keep yourself focused on your recovery?
- Describe at least two of your strengths and how they have helped you in recovery.
- What is your plan to deal with triggers and recurrence of your symptoms?
- Have you ever led a group?
- Have you ever taught a class?
- Describe your best experience in employment service or volunteer work and what made it meaningful.
- Describe your support system and how it has helped you in your recovery.
- Describe why you want to become a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist.
- Why do you feel you would be an excellent candidate to work with peers who have lived experience of mental illness or substance abuse use disorder?
When filling out the answers to these questions, write with detail, truthfulness, accuracy and a desire to share who you are with the trainers.
Step 2 for Certification
Following the training in Step 1, applicants will move on to step 2, which includes completing 75+ hours of work or volunteer service in a peer support role. These hours must be appropriately supervised by a recovery professional such as a therapist, counselor, nonprofit administrator, faculty member or another mentor.
Step 2 also involves gathering three references from professional or personal connections: bosses, supervisors, teachers, colleagues, ministers, coordinators, or anyone who can share details about how you interact with your recoverees. Two of these letters may come from other peer support specialists.
Your own family members, therapists or other mental health providers may not serve as a professional reference.
To be eligible for certification, one must meet a handful of basic qualifications and complete training.
The prerequisite qualifications for applying are as follows:
- You must be 18+ years old
- You must have a High School Diploma or GED
- You must self-identify as someone who is in recovery from one or more of the following: mental illness, substance abuse, or a co-occurring disorder
- You must self-attest that you have been in recovery for 24 consecutive months
Training to be a CPRS takes 40 hours to complete. Participants must be present for the entire training, which is offered both in-person and online. Online sessions are held synchronously, with all participants taking part at the same time.
During the day, training will involve role-playing activities, opportunities for feedback, self-examination, and multiple comprehension tests. Participants are expected to do homework in the evenings and complete a series of readings.
Additional important training information:
- Enrollment in the training program is based on a first-come, first-served basis
- Training typically reaches capacity in advance, but applicants who didn’t apply on time may be put on a waiting list
- Training is held Monday through Friday, from 8 am to 5 pm.
- Training is free! Trainees must cover their own transportation to the training facility and lodging costs, food, beverages, and snacks.
The Tennessee Department of Health has created a helpful handbook that provides a complete overview of the certification process. The handbook includes essential definitions, information about how the CPRS program operates, details about the CPRS advisory committee, guidelines and procedures for certification, information about the scope of activities that a CRPS can do and the complete CPRS Code of Ethics.
Additionally, it outlines what happens if a person is denied CPRS status or has their status revoked and when they can reapply. The recertification guidelines include important information about how to reapply for CPRS status and what counts as a Continuing Education Unit (CEU) during the certification renewal process.
Finally, the handbook also discusses employment standards for reimbursable services, information about the supervision requirement, and a list of frequently asked questions about the CPRS program.
For a person’s initial certification, they must complete the 40-hour training plus 75 or more service hours. That is the most training an individual will need to tackle at once. Renewal only requires 20 Continuing Education Units (CEU) and 50 hours of qualifying work or volunteer time in a peer coach position.
To get one’s CPRS renewed, the following criteria must be met every two years:
- Completed renewal application
- Documentation of 20 CEU hours
- A signed personal statement of adherence to the CPRS Code of Ethics for the previous two years
- Signature from a supervisor that affirms there were no CPRS Code of Ethics violations
- A minimum of 50 hours of work as a peer recovery service provider, with 2+ hours under direct supervision
Some of the roles that the Department of Health identifies as a perfect fit for a CPRS include:
- 12-Step Sponsors
- Peer Recovery Specialist
- Case Manager
- Psychosocial and Recovery Staff
- Substance Use Disorder Professional
- Mental Health Professional
Some of these positions will require additional training, credentialing or education.
A CPRS can work in countless different recovery settings. Some of those options include:
- Peer support centers
- Crisis stabilization units
- Treatment centers
- Alcohol and drug abuse services centers
- Detox centers
- Psychosocial rehab programs
- Inpatient clinics
- Community mental health agencies
- Nonprofit community organizations
- Veterans hospitals
- State and local governments
- Recovery courts
Whether a CPRS works or volunteers, the work is important and meaningful! It contributes to a healthier and safer Tennessee.
Nationwide, there is a growing demand for peer recovery specialists and recovery coaches. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lumps peer recovery workers into a broader category of Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers.
Health Education Specialists and Community Health workers help improve the health of individuals and communities. They develop programs to teach people how to make healthy choices and manage their diagnoses.
Other responsibilities include:
- Providing access to health services and health information
- Training and supervising other health workers
- Creating, evaluating and improving existing programs
- Collecting and analyzing community health data
- Advocating for communities to receive more health resources
The BLS projects this category of health workers to grow at a rate of 12% between 2021 and 2031. That is much faster than the growth of other employment areas. New positions will open yearly for peer support specialists in Tennessee; already credentialed people can easily step into those roles.
The median annual pay for Health Education Specialists and Community Health workers is $48,860, with a median hourly pay of $23.49.
The Tennessee Department of Health offers sobering data about the state of addiction and substance abuse. In 2020, 3032 Tennessee residents died from a drug overdose. That same year, 18,733 nonfatal overdoses needed outpatient care, and 7,063 nonfatal overdoses needed inpatient care.
Substance use affects people in all communities and of all economic backgrounds, races, genders and educational backgrounds. Peer support is one of Tennessee’s best available tools to address substance use. People who bring their lived experiences to the peer support environment can connect with recoverees and walk with them on their journey towards wellness.