Vocational Peer Support: Bringing Psych Rehab, Employment, and Peer Support Together

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PsyR Connections 2015 Issue 1
April 10, 2015

Debbie Nicolellis, MS, CRC

People in recovery have long been supporting each other in areas such as work and school, but have not had access to specialized information, skills, or tools that could assist them.  Boston University’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation (BUCPR) has developed a training specialization and approach for peer specialists who want to support vocational aspirations.
Vocational Peer Support:  VPS is a culmination of training and practice innovations from the BUCPR such as Choose-Get-Keep and Psychiatric Vocational Rehabilitation (Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 2003; Rogers, Anthony & Farkas, 2006; Danley & Anthony, 1987), paired with innovative peer specialist training concepts (i.e., Appalachian Consulting Group, 2006). VPS builds on the critical ingredients of peer support, including modeling vocational recovery, inspiring hope, and working from a place of mutuality with the psychiatric rehabilitation values of choice, person-directedness and community inclusion (Anthony & Farkas, 2009; Anthony, et. al., 2002).
VPS is an approach for peer specialists who wish to support people in their vocational recovery.   VPS defines vocational recovery as supporting a person’s right and capacity to pursue, attain and achieve meaningful vocational paths.  Vocational recovery is more than getting a job; it is considering, going after, and sustaining, for as long as the person wants to or needs to, the vocational experiences that give meaning, purpose, and activity to one’s life (Nicolellis & Legere, in preparation).
Peer specialists using VPS support vocational recovery through a toolbox of information, skills and tools that is added to peer support core skills and competencies.  The following skills are considered key to providing Vocational Peer Support:
• Partnering for Vocational Recovery
• Building Motivational Foundations for Vocational Change
• Supporting Choice in Work and School
• Scaffolding Getting into Preferred Environments
• Keeping Jobs and School
Partnering gives peer specialists additional skills in developing authentic partnerships through which vocational recovery can be supported.  Peers benefit from adding to their repertoire such skills as orienting to vocational activities, paraphrasing, and sharing their vocational recovery stories.  
Building Motivational Foundations for Vocational Change offers skills and tools peers may need if they are working with people who are unsure about work or school.  Building Motivational Foundations helps develop the information, experiences, and supports needed to build confidence for vocational recovery.
Supporting Choice gives peers a framework for supporting vocational decision-making, with concrete tools for walking with the person as he or she identifies preferences, researches meaningful options, and determines a best match.
Scaffolding Getting teaches peer specialists to support the person to gather, develop, and access documents, skills, and employment supports.  Peer specialists are not expected to duplicate the role of job developers or employment specialists but work side-by-side with the person to get into meaningful work environments and/or access available services.
Keeping Jobs and School offers peer specialists the competencies they need to help identify skills and supports the person may need to sustain participation in work or school. Attention is paid to supporting decisions about disability disclosure and requesting needed accommodations.
VPS offers additional information, skills and tools in the areas of Coordinating with Vocational Service Providers, Researching Information, and, optionally, the basics of Social Security Work Incentives.
Vocational Peer Support creates an option for peer specialists who want to support vocational aspirations.  By working within the values and role of peer support, but incorporating key aspects of psychiatric rehabilitation, peer staff are better able to work with people to consider, choose, get, and keep the work and school roles of their choice.
For more information, contact the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University at 617-353-3549 or by email: 
Debbie Nicolellis, Senior Training Associate:  debbien@bu.edu
Marianne Farkas, Director of Training: mfarkas@bu.edu 
Anthony, W., Cohen, M., Farkas, M., & Gagne, C. (2002). Psychiatric Rehabilitation. Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation: Boston University. Boston, MA. 
Anthony, W. A., & Farkas, M. D. (2009). Primer on the psychiatric rehabilitation process. Boston: Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation.
Appalachian Consulting Group (2006), Certified Peer Specialist Training Course. Modified with per-mission by the Transformation Center, 2008, 2010.
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation (2003).  Psychiatric Vocational Rehabilitation: A training curriculum.  Unpublished curriculum. Boston, MA:  Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation.
Danley, K.S. & Anthony, W.A. (1987). The choose-get-keep model: Serving severely psychiatrically disabled people. American Rehabilitation, 13(4), 6-9, 27-29.