This blog is managed and maintained by staff at Access to Independence working on the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative. The words, views, and values presented herein are not necessarily representative of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

What a June this has been.

I reflect today on my experience of Pride Month in this turbulent year. I think of the June 15th Supreme Court decision that advanced the needle towards justice in regards to LGBTQ+ workers’ rights by stating clearly that it is sex discrimination to fire people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. I think of mass uprisings and collective efforts against ongoing racial injustice, systemic racism, and a long history of police violence in the United States experienced in particular by Black communities. I think of the tens of thousands of people who rallied across the country in defense of Black transgender lives a little over a week ago.

I’m a white, queer, and transgender woman. This month’s Pride seems to be much less about rainbow flags and corporate pinkwashing (though that is still seen everywhere) and much more about honoring the roots and lessons of LGBTQ+ liberation efforts in the United States, efforts so often led by Black and Brown trans people, especially trans women. There is still pride, and there is also righteous rage, dancing (though much of the dancing I’ve seen has been in reclaimed city streets and autonomous zones rather than clubs), and joyful resistance. This is not the usual Pride that centers white LGBTQ+ people, people like me, and I’m here for it. I’m here for it, because a world that only recognizes the lived experiences of some and the dignity of some, ends up harming all of us.

Intersecting Justice and Liberation Movements with Peer Support

The movements that sought to broaden access to peer support for those in contact with the mental health and substance use service systems were inspired by and learned lessons from movements that also recognized the interconnectedness of different struggles for justice and liberation. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” are oftentimes seen on banners at disability rights marches and spoken in the circles of self-described psychiatric survivors.

People who had experienced institutionalization, loss of social connections, and/or forceful and coercive treatment because of their lived experiences of intense emotional states, struggles with substance use, or mental health status recognized the value of peer support. Peer support has been a tool of survival in a difficult world for so many. Connecting with others who have “been there” offers so much of value in a world that is reluctant to believe the words and experiences of “crazy people.”

Today’s state-Certified Peer Specialists have somewhat radical elders to thank for broader access to peer support services today. And yet, we have so far to go in making the peer support workforce and the supports we offer an actually trauma-informed, validating, and safer space for anyone other than white, straight, and cisgender people. Our movement and workforce has not done enough to honor and understand intersecting levels of systemic oppression, center anti-racism, and support LGBTQ+ people with “lived experience.”

I have to pause and admit something. I am one of two people working at Access to Independence on the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative contract. I work Monday through Friday to support the continued expansion and improvement of Certified Peer Specialists and Certified Parent Peer Specialists and their peer support offerings in Wisconsin. All this is true, and I would feel very hesitant about personally seeking out peer support from any CPS or CPPS in Wisconsin who is not also transgender.

My experience as a trans woman is such that when I have sought out peer support in the past, I found myself in the role of having to constantly educate people on how to show basic respect for me and other trans people. The amount of time I have spent trying to educate people on the importance of respecting and using a person’s expressed pronouns is disheartening. The reluctance so many organizations and agencies have in finding alternatives to calling 911 on people experiencing emotional distress or navigating suicidal feelings greatly scares me as a trans person.

I also believe we have a peer support community and movement on a national scale that seems much more focused on approaching people who have repeatedly caused harm to trans people with curiosity, validation, and affirmation rather than a commitment to trauma-informed, inclusive, and healing environments for those who experience various intersecting levels of oppression. This is one reason I signed an open-letter that speaks to how we approach transphobia in our movement, workforce, and communities.

Brittyn sitting next to her car. She is wearing a "Trans Rights are Human Rights" button and there is a trans pride unicorn bumper sticker in the photo.

Brittyn sitting in the parking lot of Access to Independence next to her car. She wears a “Trans Rights are Human Rights” pin and is flanked by a trans pride unicorn bumper sticker.

The circumstances that led me to signing that letter, are the same circumstances that have resulted in me feeling safest and most seen in receiving peer support from other trans people. For anyone who knows me, you might have heard me talk about Trans Lifeline. Trans Lifeline is a peer support resource composed of, operated by, and existing for trans people. Peerness is defined in our shared lived experience as trans people, not by being people with experience navigating mental health or substance use. Trans Lifeline is also one of the few peer support resources in the United States with an expressed commitment to not engage in non-consensual active rescue. Since their founding, they have been divested from the police. That means that if you call Trans Lifeline and you are in crisis, they will not call 911 or the police — unless you explicitly ask them to.

This commitment to no-nonsense informed-consent is a basic requirement for safety and a trauma-informed approach to peer support in my book. It’s the ability to define what safety means to me – not to have someone else make that decision. It’s also a basic component of earning trust and supporting the growth of a genuine relationship of mutual support and respect.


Envisioning Something Better

As I reflect on this Pride Month, my queerness and transness, and the future of peer support, I also think of where we can go from here. With widespread calls to defund police and truly invest in people and communities, in healthcare, housing, education, and other basic needs for our communities, there are also calls for more peer support and mental health resources. Yet, many peer support programs operate within the mental health and substance use service systems, systems that many understand to perpetuate systemic racism, and all too often rely on methods of force, coercion, and calling in the police “for our own good.”

I think there is something to be said for re-thinking what makes one a “peer” with another. For some, a meaningful sense of peerness can be found in the shared lived experience of navigating mental health and/or substance use. For others, like me, there may be some other shared lived experience that serves to facilitate a peer connection. That may be a shared experience of Blackness, Indigeneity, transness, disability, and so on.

We see new approaches to the definition of “peer” already in organizations like Trans Lifeline and in peer support resources made by and for veterans. The answer to this question perhaps doesn’t have to be an either/or solution, but our workforce is overwhelmingly composed of white, middle-aged women currently, especially when it comes to those in supervisory or decision-making positions. The composition of our peer workforce and leadership, those serving on committees, drafting organizational policies and procedures, and any systems oversight in our field needs to be acknowledged and addressed.

Four buttons Brittyn picked up at the INAPS conference in San Diego. One reads in black and white, "Fuck Racism." Another has a cat and says, "Fuck your 'help,' it was my cat who saved my life. Anther reads, "Calling the cops on a person because they're in distress = a threat of violence," and it has 911 crossed out. The last one reads, "Silence is the voice of complicity."

Some buttons that Brittyn picked up at the National Association of Peer Supporters Conference in San Diego last fall (October 2019).

Is it enough for peer support professionals to be “in but not of” the mental health and substance use service systems? Was that phrase ever really true? By being in these systems, we are still immersed in and affected by the systemic racism and oppressive nature of such systems. I highly recommend that people read the article, “We Don’t Need Cops to Become Social Workers: We Need Peer Support + Community Response Networks.”


I want to be clear here, we can’t meaningfully improve peer support and operate business as usual. If we want to create a world that better supports Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), as well as transgender people, others in the LGBTQ+ spectrum, disabled people, and all those who experience unique levels of systemic oppression, we should be listening to, learning from, and centering the voices of BIPOC people, BIPOC trans people, BIPOC queer people, BIPOC disabled people, and so on. In many ways, these communities and peoples have survived because of peer support, but it wasn’t the peer support we were offering.


It’s linked here earlier in the article, but I specifically would ask that people check out the following video that Freedom Inc. put together about the Stonewall Uprising and how Black & POC members of the LGBTQI+ community continue to fight for liberation: Queer Power Rising video – click here

Also, I am looking forward to an upcoming panel that is being hosted by the UW-Madison School of Social Work this Friday, June 26th from 12-1:30pm Central time. This panel features Certified Peer Specialist leaders in Wisconsin, primarily including Black and Brown Certified Peer Specialists as they discuss peer support in relation to calls to defund police and better support people with “lived experience.”


Carmella Glenn, CPS, Program Coordinator, Just Bakery/Madison area Urban Ministry

Tim Saubers, CPS, Peer Specialist Program Manager, Access to Independence

Tara Wilhelmi,CPS, Founder of EOTO, LLC

Dani Rischall, LCSW, Chrysalis Executive Director (UW-Madison BSW Alum 2007)

For more information and a link to view the discussion, click here.









This blog is managed and maintained by staff at Access to Independence working on the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative. The words, views, and values presented herein are not necessarily representative of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

We are excited to announce the launch of this blog for current and future Certified Peer Specialists and Certified Parent Peer Specialists in Wisconsin!

This is a place for us to discuss and dive into topics relating to the work of people in peer specialist roles throughout the state. Posts will explore the values and ethics that guide our work, how to approach challenges in the workplace, navigating ethical dilemmas, efforts to offer peer support while acknowledging and honoring the impacts of marginalization and oppression, providing and receiving effective supervision in a peer support role, and more!

Tim and Brittyn will likely author the majority of posts here towards the beginning, though we plan to bring on guest authors and contributors in the future. These people will be mostly Certified Peer Specialists and Certified Parent Peer Specialists throughout the state talking about their work and the important issues they encounter in that work.

Today, we launch our blog with two entries that offer a deeper introduction to Tim and Brittyn, the Peer Specialist Program Manager and Peer Specialist Program Communications Assistant. Throughout the month of May, we will share more on the revision of the Certified Peer Specialist curriculum in Wisconsin, how the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative is striving towards greater program transparency and accessibility, as well as a general program overview of the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative and its future direction and vision in this new decade.

We invite you to contact us to let us know what topics you would like to see covered in this blog. If you have questions, it’s possible we can make a blog post about it!

Please, bookmark this page and follow along as we share and learn together. We will also update our social media pages when new posts are published. You can like and follow us on our Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts.

Thank you for visiting today, and happy reading!

This blog is managed and maintained by staff at Access to Independence working on the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative. The words, views, and values presented herein are not necessarily representative of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

As we launch this blog for the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative, I would like to take an opportunity to introduce myself, share a bit of my background in peer support work, and some things I’m excited for in my role here as the Peer Specialist Program Communications Assistant.

Discovering the Value of Peer Support

The things that brought me to my work as a Certified Peer Specialist, are similar to many others drawn to such work. My personal, lived experience relating to navigating periods of intense emotional distress, the effects of trauma, challenges with substance use, and the material impacts of marginalization due to my sexuality and gender identity led me to seek out support from others who “got it” in one way or another. I felt more comfortable, and most safe, sharing and seeking support from others with shared or similar experiences.

Experiencing the unique benefits of peer support first-hand is what led me to want to offer the same to others. After completing my training and taking the Wisconsin exam, I began working as a Wisconsin Certified Peer Specialist in 2014. I found myself, throughout the coming years, offering support and forming connections and relationships built on mutuality with a wide range of people in a variety of settings including neighborhood coffee shops, local libraries, parks, hospitals, homes, peer-run respites, and community centers.

Growing as a Certified Peer Specialist

I embarked on my journey as a Certified Peer Specialist working with Grassroots Empowerment Project (GEP), supporting people who were navigating their own lived experience and recovery while also striving towards employment and vocational goals within the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation system. While with GEP, I also served as a facilitator in the Participatory Decision-Making process for various stakeholders in La Crosse and Sauk Counties. These stakeholders looked for ways to better support people with lived experience and address challenges in the service systems specific to their communities. It was also during this first job as a Certified Peer Specialist that I began diving into continuing education opportunities. In the years I have maintained my certification, continuing education has been a primary source of professional support and development.

In 2015, with both informal and professional peer support experience as well as the positive influence of trainings such as Intentional Peer Support, I began facilitating Certified Peer Specialist trainings around Wisconsin.  This experience facilitating CPS trainings between 2015-2016 helps me in my role today supporting current trainers in Wisconsin.

After my time with GEP, I began working at Solstice House Peer-Run Respite in Madison. I started as a third-shift peer specialist and quickly developed new skill-sets for supporting people more “in the thick of it.” Within a year of starting there I moved into the House Manager position, overseeing the peer support taking place in the respite and on the Warmline, coordinating scheduling, and offering on-call support as peer specialists navigated difficult experiences, whether it be interpersonal, logistical, or ethical.

In time, I found myself moving on from my role with Solstice House and moved to Western Massachusetts to serve as a Community Coordinator with the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community. There, I engaged with some of the most impactful work I have done while offering direct support in a peer role. Facilitating Alternatives to Suicide groups, Hearing Voices Network groups, and LGBTQ+ specific support groups taught me new ways to connect with others authentically. Supervising a team of others in peer support roles taught me about the need for supervision rooted in and consistent with peer support values. I also developed a deepened understanding of the peer principle of mutuality and how the struggle against various forms of marginalization and oppression can support us in our work as we build genuine human relationships and connect with others in times of struggle as well as times of joy. Though I learned so much from my time in Massachusetts and formed connections I value greatly still today, life had a way of bringing me back to Wisconsin.

My Work With the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative

In August of 2019, I began working with Access to Independence and the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative. Since starting in my role as the Peer Specialist Program Communications Assistant, I have grown my professional skill-sets in new ways. Some highlights include:

  • Supporting CPS and CPPS trainers throughout the state.
  • Launching and maintaining an updated and much-improved website for the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative.
  • Updating the employer guidance for CPS and CPPS services along with the Peer Specialist Program Manager.
  • Revising the CPS curriculum for Wisconsin alongside Tim, staff from the Department of Health Services, and CPS trainers throughout the state.
  • Revamping our social media presence and strategy.
  • And more…

My ultimate goal is to better support the improvement and expansion of peer specialist services in Wisconsin through developing clear and accessible web content for CPS and CPPS, improving the training of people in peer specialist roles, connecting people with quality professional development and continuing education resources, as well as supporting the formation of a wider network and community of practice of people in peer specialist roles to support and learn from one another.

A Bit More

In my non-work life, I spend most of my time with my family and engaging in political and organizing efforts against oppression and for a more just world. I find nature time to be essential. Walking through woods and being near flowing water is perhaps the most restorative experience for me.

I look forward to sharing more with you all in this blog, as we discuss topics important and helpful for people in peer specialist roles in Wisconsin.

This blog is managed and maintained by staff at Access to Independence working on the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative. The words, views, and values presented herein are not necessarily representative of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

We started this blog as another way to connect with you all on a bit more of a personal level and to share information in a longer format. For this first entry, I wanted to take a minute to introduce myself a bit more thoroughly and give you all a chance to get to know me better.

I’m Tim Saubers, the Peer Specialist Program Manager of the WI Peer Specialist Employment Initiative at Access to Independence. My role within the program is to oversee the training and certification of all the CPS and CPPS in Wisconsin as well as to provide technical assistance to any organization in the state that would like to create, develop, or grow their CPS or CPPS program. I do this with the goal of supporting a sustainable, effective, professional, peer workforce in Wisconsin.

Origins in Milwaukee and Beginning Work as a Certified Peer Specialist

Before coming to Madison, I lived in Milwaukee for the previous 8 years. I become a Certified Peer Specialist in July of 2016 and found employment at a local non-profit social services agency to provide direct service peer support as part of the Community Linkage and Stabilization Program (CLASP). This was my first experience working in a professional peer support role. Before taking this peer support position in Milwaukee, I had worked at a chain restaurant and had no experience in the behavioral health, social work, or non-profit fields.

I mention this, as well as the fact that my highest level of education is completing high school, because many people come from similar backgrounds. A common worry I often speak to people about in my current role is the idea that they may not have the most applicable work or education history when looking for employment as a CPS or CPPS. I firmly believe that we all have skills that, when viewed through different lenses, can help make us more effective peer specialists regardless of our work or education history. If we can showcase our skills and unique lived experiences effectively to employers, they can actually help us to find work as CPS or CPPS.

While working as a CPS in Milwaukee, I supported people who were considered to be in crisis, through the lens of the traditional, clinical definition: people who were being discharged from a psychiatric hospitalization, had attempted suicide, were engaging in self-harm, were using substances in an “unhealthy” manner, and so on. I loved supporting the people I worked with while I was in that position as they engaged with the community, grew their support systems, and we did fun activities together such as going to the Milwaukee Art Museum or spending time by Lake Michigan.

I learned and grew significantly as a CPS during my time in Milwaukee, developing my skills and coming to understand better that peer support is not about getting people sober or into recovery, but rather about building genuine human connections through shared experience and honoring the many different forms that can take. A little over a year after taking my first CPS position, I was promoted to supervise the program in which I worked. It was my first time in a supervisory role, and I was overseeing a team of 6 CPS.

Supervising was a challenging, new experience for me and taught me a lot about providing effective supervision of CPS specifically, program development, and my own ability to grow and take on new challenges. For so long, while experiencing mental health and substance use challenges, it felt as though I would never be able to work in a way that was meaningful to me. Given that previous belief, I found this new position to be very exciting. While in this supervisory role, I created new outcome measurement tools for the program, improved our long-term data collection and tracking systems, created updated satisfaction surveys for the people receiving peer support, expanded our referral sources, standardized training practices, and significantly grew the resources the program had to offer to people receiving support. By the end of my time supervising CLASP, I had been with the program for just over 2 years.

Continuing My Professional Journey in Madison

After about a year of supervising CLASP in Milwaukee, I applied for my current position as Peer Specialist Program Manager at Access to Independence. What followed was a whirlwind of an experience, as I was notified that I got the job on Halloween Day of 2018 and agreed to start on December 1st, giving me only about 30 days to get my life sorted out! Ultimately, everything came together, and I moved to Madison in December.

All in all, taking on this role has been a great experience so far. It has pushed me to grow professional, personally, and as a CPS. I’ve made a wide variety of changes and improvements to the program since starting and plan to continue doing so.

I hope this provides you with a better understanding of my experiences with peer support and how I came to be in this position. As I continue in my role and move this program forward, I’m always happy to chat with anyone who has feedback, suggestions, ideas, or who would just like to connect further. I invite you to feel free to reach out. I look forward to working with you all and continuing to support the development of a professional peer workforce here in Wisconsin!