In 2017 the Montana Board of Behavioral Health began certifying peer support specialists to use their personal experience with behavioral health disorders to work one on one with individuals currently diagnosed with behavioral health disorders. This position of guidance, mentoring and advocacy was expanded exponentially in 2019 when the Montana Legislature passed SB0030.01, which makes services provided by Certified Behavioral Health Peer Support Specialists (CBHPSS) billable through the Montana Medicaid program (DPHHS 2020).

JG researchers Brandn Green and Matthew Filteau conducted a study of the program in order to (1) understand the experiences of and the motivations for becoming a peer support specialist; (2) understand the factors that affect recruitment and retention; and (3) offer recommendations for strengthening this resource in Montana from the perspective of peer support specialists. The study was supported by the State Opioid Response II grant program from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as managed by the Behavioral Health and Disabilities Division of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

This study found that altruism motivated most peer support specialists to pursue certification and employment as a peer support specialist. Peers described a sense of duty to help others during their recovery process, and defined PS 101 as an inspiration for pursuing that professional path. Peers identified bureaucracy and bottlenecks within the Montana Board of Behavioral Health as the leading obstacle to attain the peer support certification. Once certified and employed, peers stated that inconsistent work responsibilities, low pay, and no benefits threaten retention. Peers also mentioned that burnout from working in behavioral health compelled peers to seek other employment opportunities. Alternatively, participants stated that clinical supervision meetings, and the relationships they formed with their clinical supervisors and other peers bolstered retention.  

Recommendations to the Montana’s peer support specialist program that came from this study include:

  • Peers suggested offering a prerequisite to PS 101 that would screen out potentially unqualified candidates and increase retention through certification
  • Peers recommended peer-to-peer assistance during the certification process for Continuing Education Units (CEUs)
  • Eliminating the clinical supervision requirement to apply for certification would boost retention because many peers lack connections to qualified supervisors before employment   
  • Expand the types of health care settings that can offer peer support or provide seed funding for independent peer support organizations to expand and contract with healthcare providers
  • Increase the Medicaid reimbursement rate, so healthcare providers can pay CBHPSS more and offer better benefits
  • Offer more CEU trainings on a wider array of topics.

Link to full report coming soon.