How to Become a Recovery Coach in Wisconsin

Also known as peer recovery specialists, recovery coaches come from all walks of life and represent various ages, ethnicities, backgrounds and abilities. What they have in common is a personal experience in recovery and the desire to help others.

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Peer specialists aren’t clinicians and don’t provide treatment, but they fulfill a vital role on an individual’s recovery team. If you have personal experience in recovery, you may qualify to work as a certified peer recovery specialist in Wisconsin after completing training and taking an exam.

As a peer specialist or recovery coach, you will serve as a mentor and role model for individuals receiving treatment or support in recovery. Drawing from your own experiences and training, you can encourage and assist people in their recovery efforts.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services offers two types of peer certification for recovery coaches: certified peer specialist and certified parent peer specialist.

Certified Peer Recovery Specialist

As a peer recovery specialist, you will work in a clearly defined role as part of a team of professionals supporting the person in recovery.

In this role, you’ll work to develop positive relationships with others in recovery and help them set goals, find resources and take steps toward wellness. Your own experiences in recovery give you a personal perspective that allows you to listen with empathy and communicate with a unique understanding of what others in recovery are experiencing. In addition, sharing your own learned experience provides emotional support and fosters hope in others.

On the practical side, you can help individuals connect with mental health providers, community recovery centers, substance abuse counselors and social services. You can advocate for the people you work with and discover community resources for education, job training, childcare and housing.

Peer specialists may be employed by the government or nonprofit organizations or mental health programs operated by the state of Wisconsin or the Department of Corrections. Or, you may find employment with tribal agencies, hospitals or mental health clinics.

In Wisconsin, peer specialists also operate designated peer recovery centers and peer-run respites. Peer recovery centers are located in major population areas throughout Wisconsin. People struggling with recovery can drop in without an appointment and find peer recovery specialists ready to listen in a safe, non-judgmental space.

Peer-run respites are places where people under acute stress from mental health or substance use issues can get support and stay overnight for up to one week if needed. The service is free, but appointments are required. At centers and respites, peer specialists provide compassionate support and educational activities.

Certified Parent Peer Specialist

If you are the parent of a child who has experienced challenges with mental health, behavioral problems, emotional troubles or substance use, you may be interested in becoming a parent peer specialist. In this role, you will assist the families of children and teens with any of the issues mentioned above.

As a parent peer specialist, you will serve as a role model to give parents hope and encourage family resiliency. Using your experience, you’ll help families set goals and access resources. You’ll foster a positive and trusting relationship in which families can voice concerns, ask questions and learn about services available for youth and families. You may also serve as an advocate for the family with the other support team members.

Parent peer specialists may be employed by Wisconsin Community Mental Health programs that are geared toward youth. They may also work at recovery centers, nonprofit organizations, schools, hospitals, detention centers and treatment centers.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recognizes the importance of peer support for parents of troubled youth. Peers can also provide non-judgmental emotional support during difficult times. Parents often feel overwhelmed by the network of organizations that serve the needs of children and youth, and guidance from an experienced peer can be beneficial.

Wisconsin has been a leader in developing the parent peer specialist training and certificate. The program was started in 2018.

Qualifications to Become a Peer Recovery Specialist or Parent Peer Specialist

In Wisconsin, the initial qualifications for peer specialist and parent peer specialist are identical. You must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. You must be a resident of Wisconsin and have first-hand, personal experience in going through the mental health or substance use recovery process.

For the parent peer specialist, you will need personal experience parenting a youth who has experienced behavioral, emotional, social, or substance use issues. If you meet the qualifications, you can apply for training.

Wisconsin Training Programs for Recovery Coaches

The Wisconsin Peer Specialists (WICPS) organization holds free state-approved training for both peer specialists and parent peer specialists. Spaces are limited, so you are encouraged to apply early.

After sending in your application, you may be invited to an interview by video chat. Not everyone who is interviewed will be selected for the training.

As an applicant, you will be carefully screened and evaluated on a case-by-case basis. To prepare for the interview, you should be able to relate your own experience in recovery, explain the role of the peer specialist or parent peer specialist and demonstrate a passion for helping others in recovery.

Training courses are held online but may be offered in onsite locations in the future. Most training sessions have local residency requirements and are only open to people living in specific counties, cities or tribal areas.

Training for peer and parent peer specialists consists of 48 hours of instruction delivered over several days.

Candidates for peer specialist certification learn core competencies about mental health and recovery. You’ll also learn the specialized niche of the peer specialist and study the peer specialist’s code of ethics.

Specifically, peer specialists learn about:

  • Recovery principles
  • Peer support relationships
  • Self-disclosure
  • Advocacy
  • Communication skills
  • Ethics and boundaries

In their training sessions, candidates for parent peer certification learn how to support families in times of crisis and assist families as they seek the appropriate services. Parent peers learn about best practices and how to maintain ethical relationships.

The instruction for parent peer specialists covers:

  • Self-disclosure
  • Navigating youth and family services resources
  • Advocacy
  • Mental health and substance use recovery
  • Family resilience
  • Child development

After completing the training, you will be ready for the exam.

Taking the Examination

The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee’s School of Continuing Education, administers the exams for Certified Peer Specialist and Certified Parent Peer Specialist. You must take the exam within two years of completing training.

You can register online and take the exam on any computer. The exams are proctored by university staff. Only 150 persons may take the exam at any given time. The fee is $50.

The exam consists of 62 multiple-choice questions. You will have three hours to complete the test. Reasonable accommodations are available to those who qualify.

To prepare, you can download a study guide with sample questions from the Wisconsin Peer Specialists website. The organization also hosts hour-long online study sessions. You must register at the WICPS website since space is limited.

  • Certified Peer Specialist exam

The exam will test your knowledge of the scope of practice, core competencies and ethics. For peer specialists, the test will evaluate your knowledge in four core competencies:

  • Values
  • Knowledge of Recovery
  • Roles and Responsibilities
  • Skills
  • Certified Parent Peer Specialist exam

This exam covers eight core competencies:

  • Personal attributes
  • Ethics and confidentiality
  • Advocacy
  • Wellness
  • Crisis and safety planning
  • Empowerment
  • Communication
  • Knowledge

Both tests require a passing score of 85% or higher.

Recertification and Continuing Education

Your certification must be renewed every two years. You must complete at least 20 hours of continuing education in specified areas during that time.

Peer specialists must earn 1.5 hours in each of the following topics:

  • Mental health
  • Trauma-informed care
  • Cultural humility
  • Substance use
  • Ethics and boundaries
  • Peer specialist

You must apply for recertification through the University of Milwaukee portal by August 31 of the year your certificate expires. The fee is $50.

For parent peer specialists, the continuing education topics are as follows:

  • Child and adolescent development
  • Cultural humility
  • Ethics and boundaries
  • Parent peer specialist

Your application for recertification must be submitted by January 31. The fee is $50.

You can earn continuing education credits through several organizations holding seminars, workshops, webinars, and in-person and online training. All credit hours must be from qualifying educational events and documented for recertification.

Professional Development

After you obtain certification and begin working as a peer specialist or parent peer specialist, you have many opportunities to continue to develop your skills and stay up-to-date with the latest knowledge in your field.

The WICPS hosts regular events as part of their Community of Practice. These events feature guest speakers and training. Some events also qualify as continuing education hours.

As a peer specialist or parent peer specialist, you will want to stay connected with others in your field. The WICPS group maintains a contact list and has social media pages where upcoming workshops and other resources are frequently posted. WICPS also hosts a job board for full-time and part-time openings.