Peer worker skills

Peer Worker Core Competencies

A peer worker, sometimes called a peer support worker, has a lot in common with community health workers (CHWs). They’re both roles that help clients based as trusted peers and can aid them on the road to a healthier life.

It’s best to hire the right person with the right skills for a CHW or peer worker job. But it’s still helpful to understand what it takes to educate each person so you can develop a more comprehensive training environment for your staff.

This guide to peer worker core competencies is here to help you understand what you need to guide training programs, build job descriptions and possibly cross-train CHWs or others in peer worker standards.

Peer Workers Vs. CHWs

Both peer workers and CHWs fill a similar role. They’re both important members of a wellness community. They may have the same clients and work together to promote health and wellness among their clients.

Peer workers are people who have personal experience that relates closely to that of their clients, especially in behavioral health environments. They may have mental health challenges, substance use or other related experiences. They use their experience to help their clients who could be having the same kinds of challenges.

Widely speaking, peer workers …

  • Provide emotional support
  • Give practical support
  • Build rapport and encouragement toward recovery via their own experiences

On the other hand, CHWs are people who come from the communities they serve. They’re trained to work with community members to improve their health and connect them with providers, resources and services that can help.

CHWs are a bridge between community members and the healthcare system. They specialize in health education, health promotion and disease prevention and management.

In summary, peer workers give support based on their personal experiences and focus on mental health and substance use. CHWs promote overall health and wellness in their communities over a wide range of health-related needs.

We have built our company around helping agencies understand the needs of learners. Our needs assessment process helps managers and administrators build the right remote training program.

If your team is in need of a training needs assessment, book a consultation and our experts will provide valuable resources to help you achieve success.

Core Competencies for A Peer Worker

Core competencies set a standard for what a person needs to know to fill their role. They cover the skills and knowledge that are required to do a job. They’re used by employers as a baseline to train people so they can get to work.

SAMHSA worked with subject matter experts to identify the most widely accepted list of core competencies for peer workers in behavioral health. You can download a list of Core Competencies for Peer Workers in Behavioral Health Services – 2018 (PDF; 251 KB) from SAMHSA here.

The core competencies of peer workers typically include the following:

I. Engages peers in collaborative and caring relationships

The following competencies relate to peer workers’ ability to initiate and develop on-going relationships with people who have behavioral health condition and possibly their family members. They include interpersonal skills, knowledge about recovery from behavioral health conditions and attitudes consistent with a recovery orientation.

  • Initiates contact with peers
  • Listens to peers with careful attention to the content and emotion being communicated
  • Reaches out to engage peers across the whole continuum of the recovery process
  • Demonstrates genuine acceptance and respect
  • Demonstrates understanding of peers’ experiences and feelings

II. Provides support

These competencies allow peer workers to provide the mutual support that people living with behavioral health conditions may want.

  • Validates peers’ experiences and feelings
  • Encourages the exploration and pursuit of community roles
  • Conveys hope to peers about their own recovery
  • Celebrates peers’ efforts and accomplishments
  • Provides concrete assistance to help peers accomplish tasks and goals

III: Shares lived experiences of recovery

These competencies are similar to those of a CHW in that they let peers share their personal experiences.

  • Relates their own recovery stories, and with permission, the recovery stories of others to inspire hope
  • Discusses ongoing personal efforts to enhance health, wellness, and recovery
  • Recognizes when to share experiences and when to listen
  • Describes personal recovery practices and helps peers discover recovery practices that work for them

IV: Personalizes peer support

These competencies help peer workers to match support services with a peer.

  • Understands his/her own personal values and culture and how these may contribute to biases,
  • judgments and beliefs
  • Appreciates and respects the cultural and spiritual beliefs and practices of peers and their families
  • Recognizes and responds to the complexities and uniqueness of each peer’s process of recovery
  • Tailors services and support to meet the preferences and unique needs of peers and their families

V: Supports recovery planning
Competencies in this category let peer workers to support others peers to take charge of their lives.

  • Assists and supports peers to set goals and to dream of future possibilities
  • Proposes strategies to help a peer accomplish tasks or goals
  • Supports peers to use decision-making strategies when choosing services and supports
  • Helps peers to function as a member of their treatment/recovery support team
  • Researches and identifies credible information and options from various resources

VI: Links to resources, services, and supports

These competencies let peer workers connect other peers to resources, services, and supports they need to help with recovery.

  • Develops and maintains up-to-date information about community resources and services
  • Assists peers to investigate, select, and use needed and desired resources and services
  • Helps peers to find and use health services and supports
  • Accompanies peers to community activities and appointments when requested
  • Participates in community activities with peers when requested

While these competencies are fine-tuned for peer workers, they’re still useful skills to teach other workers, including CHWs. Cross-training, or educating employees in multiple skills, is a valuable strategy. It can help CHWs be more versatile and flexible within their roles.

CHW Core Competencies

Find out all about what the CHW Core Competencies are, CHW roles, CHW careers, how to cross-train your staff, and how to get state certifications for the CHWs on your team