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Core Competencies for Peer Workers

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Learn about the foundation and essential core competencies required by a range of peer workers within behavioral health services.

What Are Core Competencies?

Core competencies are the capacity to easily perform a role or function. They are often described as clusters of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes a person needs to have to successfully perform a role or job. Training, mentoring, and supervision can help people develop core competencies.

Peer workers and peer recovery support services have become increasingly central to people’s ability to live with or recover from mental and/or substance use disorders. Community-based organizations led by peer workers also play a growing role in helping people find recovery. Both mental health consumers and people in recovery from substance use disorders have recognized the need for core competencies, and both communities actively participated in developing these core competencies for peer support workers.

SAMHSA—in conjunction with diverse subject matter experts—conducted research to identify core competencies for peer workers in behavioral health. The draft core competencies were posted online for public comment. The following document represents the final product of that process, which incorporated input from hundreds of people around the United States:

Access a list of frequently asked questions about core competencies for peer workers to learn more.

Potential Uses of Core Competencies

Core competencies have the potential to guide service delivery and promote best practices in peer support. They can be used to inform peer training programs, help develop certification standards, and inform job descriptions. Supervisors will be able to use these competencies to appraise peer workers’ job performance and peers will be able to assess their own work performance and set goals for continued development.

Core competencies are not intended to create a barrier for people wishing to enter the peer workforce. Rather they are intended to guide the development of initial and ongoing training that supports peer workers’ entry into this important work and continued skill development.

Principles of Core Competencies

Core competencies for peer workers reflect certain foundational principles identified by members of the mental health consumer and substance use disorder recovery communities. These are:

  • Recovery-oriented: Peer workers hold out hope to those they serve, partnering with them to envision and achieve a meaningful and purposeful life. Peer workers help those they serve identify and build on strengths and empower them to choose for themselves, recognizing that there are multiple pathways to recovery.
  • Person-centered: Peer recovery support services are always directed by the person participating in services. Peer recovery support is personalized to align with the specific hopes, goals, and preferences of the people served and to respond to specific needs the people has identified to the peer worker.
  • Voluntary: Peer workers are partners or consultants to those they serve. They do not dictate the types of services provided or the elements of recovery plans that will guide their work with peers. Participation in peer recovery support services is always contingent on peer choice.
  • Relationship-focused: The relationship between the peer worker and the peer is the foundation on which peer recovery support services and support are provided. The relationship between the peer worker and peer is respectful, trusting, empathetic, collaborative, and mutual.
  • Trauma-informed: Peer recovery support utilizes a strength-based framework that emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety and creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.
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