Seal of Dane County County of Dane
Behavioral Health Resource Center

Peer Support Services

Whether you are new to engaging in mental health services or have been receiving services for any number of years, it is possible you have never heard of Peer Support Services. This is an individualized, nonclinical support that offers a unique perspective from most well-known mental health services.

In recent years, a movement has emerged to challenge the medical model approach to care. The new approach focuses on person-centered care with an emphasis on an individual’s strengths and the possibilities of recovery. This approach allows treatment providers and Peer Specialists to acknowledge that people are not their symptoms and that each individual has a unique set of strengths and abilities that can foster recovery, health, and wellness. The Peer Specialist profession is firmly rooted in the person-centered, strengths-based, and recovery-oriented approach to care.


What are Peer Support Services?

Peer Support is a service in which individuals with lived experience of mental health and/or substance use challenges connect with individuals who are currently facing mental health challenges to offer support and connection. This service is most often provided by individuals who are Certified Peer Specialist, Recovery Coaches, or Certified Parent Peer Specialists.

The Peer Specialist and Peer build a relationship that promotes respect, trust and connection, and empowers individuals to make informed choices to enhance their lives.  The relationship is mutual and the service is self-directed, creating space for peers to explore, reflect and build a personal sense of meaning that promotes consent, autonomy and dignity. This can take place in individual and group settings.


Who is involved in Peer Support Services?

The two people engaging in Peer Support meetings are both referred to as Peers, but we can designate the difference in who is who by using the title of Peer Specialist as the person who is supplying the service. Sometimes referred to as Certified Peer Specialist if certification has been achieved. The Peer Specialist is a nonclinical professional who has lived experience of mental health and/or substance use in their lifetime. Peer Specialists can be an active member of the peer’s treatment and recovery team and act as an advocate.


What do individual Peer Support meetings look like?

Despite Certified Peer Specialists and Recovery Coaches receiving training and going through a certification exam, there is no hierarchy in Peer Support. Peer Specialists see individuals as experts on themselves and their own recovery. Peer Specialists draw this out through careful listening, curiosity and exploration, inspiring hope, and examining supports and resources for recovery. Peers and Peer Specialists can mutually support each other and share experiences.

Peer Services are person-centered. This means there is no one way to do Peer Support. Certified Peer Specialists are present to listen and lend support on what the peer themselves is looking for and what their goals are. Peer Support is a flexible, adaptive service that can occur not just in traditional mental health service settings, but also in the community or one’s home.  Peer Support focuses on strengths and is nonclinical. This allows for a more personal connection than what one might feel in therapy services.


What is the Peer view of Recovery?

Recovery is deeply personal and there is no one way to define it. Peer Support does have some specific guiding concepts for recovery. In peer support, Recovery focuses on strengths instead of pathology/diagnosing, weaknesses, or deficits. There is no one way to “recover”. There are multiple pathways to recovery. Recovery itself is defined and determined by the peer themselves. Recovery is an ongoing process. It does not stop or move backwards when a challenge arises. It is viewed as a part an individual’s path to recovery.


What is the difference between a Recovery Coach and a Certified Peer Specialist?

Recovery Coaching and Certified Peer Specialist have different training. Recovery Coaching specifically focuses on substance use recovery. Although Certified Peer Specialist may have lived experience with substance use, it is not guaranteed.  Certified Peer Specialist training does include substance use. Recovery Coaches do not have to have lived experience of substance use. They may be related to or are close with individuals who have used or do use substances. Those individuals without their own lived experience can support people in similar situations to them.

It is possible for a Peer Specialist to be certified as both a Certified Peer Specialist and Recovery Coach.


What is the difference between an AA/NA sponsor and a Recovery Coach/Certified Peer Support?

First, it is important to note that an individual can be in a 12-step program and have a sponsor, as well as having a Recovery Coach/Peer Support Specialist.

Here is how these supports are different. AA/NA sponsors are program oriented. They provide support and help sponsees through the 12-step program.  Although a sponsee can be a sponsor to others, the relationship is viewed to be less mutual than a peer relationship. The sponsor is like a mentor who holds more knowledge and experience of the 12-step process than their sponsee.

Recovery Coaching and Peer Support do not follow a specific program. The relationship is driven by the peers’ needs and the peer relationship is seen more mutually. The peer perspective believes that individuals know themselves and their needs for recovery above anyone else and thus they do not necessarily need to follow a 12-step program or any specific program at all if they do not feel it is beneficial to their recovery.

Training and certification is also a difference. AA/NA sponsors do not undergo specific training. Recovery Coaches and Peer Specialists have training and certification.


What is a Certified Parent Peer Specialist?

A Certified Parent Peer Specialist combines knowledge gained from parenting children and youth with social, emotional, behavioral, mental health and/or substance use challenges and training to increase their skills to support other parents or those in a parenting role.

For more information see:

Connecting to Peer Services

How to get connected to Peer Support?

The BHRC’s Peer Support services are short-term services (up to three months) meant to fill in the gap of support while individuals work towards connecting to other mental health services. When calling the BHRC, ask about Peer Support/Recovery coaching to complete a referral.

Peer Support is available through many different organizations and agencies in Dane County. The BHRC has contracts with providers of both Certified Peer Specialists and Recovery Coaches. Peer Support can exist individually, in support groups, at respite centers, in community centers, related to vocation, and beyond.

Uplift Wisconsin Uplift WI - This line is for Wisconsin residents and is staffed by certified peer specialists – people with lived experiences of mental health, substance use and other related life experiences. Call this line if you need someone to talk to for support when things are difficult, or when you just need a peer to connect with. You do not need to be in crisis to call this line. This line is fully anonymous and confidential and is not directly connected to crisis linkage services.  We will not call emergency services on you unless you specifically request this from us, and that process will be led by you.

Two community Peer-run services are Respite Houses and Recovery Centers. To learn about these opportunities and where they exist in Dane County see the following links:

Wisconsin Peer-Run Respite options:

Dane County Specific Respite option: Solstice House

Wisconsin Peer Recovery Centers:

Dane County Specific Center option: Cornucopia

Agencies that provide peer support in various forms in Dane County (list is not comprehensive):

Just Dane, Chrysalis, Centro Hispano, Safe Communities, SOAR/Recovery Dane, Briarpatch Youth Services, Wisconsin Family Ties, Solstice House, Cornucopia, Monarch Health Addiction Recovery Clinics, NAMI, UW Health in some clinics, Anesis Center for Marriage and Family Therapy, Access to Independence, Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development, Various agencies in Comprehensive Community Services (CCS).


Training and Certification Information


There is no requirement of having a professional diagnosis or formal treatment to become a peer. There are no requirements to your lived experience of mental health.

The Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative website is home to the following important information:

• Upcoming trainings:  

• Upcoming exams:  

• Recertification information:  

• Continuing education guidelines:  

• Employment opportunities  

• State and national resources: