Revising the Wisconsin Certified Peer Specialist Curriculum
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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.

Here at the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative, we believe that quality training and education is a crucial foundation of effective Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) services.

Peer support is a valuable and powerful way of connecting with others through shared lived experience, inspiring hope for the future, and supporting empowered and self-directed change. The principles that Certified Peer Specialists value and the skills most needed in supportive peer relationships are clarified and developed in initial training. They are then expanded upon and honed in our work and continuing education.

In 2016, Wisconsin developed a curriculum that integrated professional peer support competency and training relating to both mental health lived experience and the experience of substance use challenges. As the pilot period for that initial integrated curriculum came to a close, we kick-started the rigorous task of revising the Wisconsin Certified Peer Specialist Curriculum.

Learning from Our Trainers

In February, and again in May, of 2019, the Peer Specialist Program Manager sent a survey, to all 35 Certified Peer Specialist trainers in Wisconsin. The survey was designed by the Peer Specialist Program Manager with input from WI Department of Health Services (DHS) staff in order to gather feedback from the trainers regarding areas and aspects of the pilot CPS Curriculum that they wanted to see revised.

Trainers were asked what they found most effective in the pilot curriculum, what they wanted to see added or removed, and what they found least effective or challenging. 14 trainers completed and returned the survey in this initial step.

On August 6th and 7th 2019, 14 CPS trainers were brought together to begin work on revising the CPS curriculum. In order to participate in the workgroup, trainers were required to have completed and returned the WI Certified Peer Specialist Curriculum Feedback Survey and to have facilitated at least 2 CPS trainings. Trainers were divided into four groups and assigned 3 sections of the curriculum to review in advance.

Trainers remained in their assigned group for facilitated discussion and synthesis of their review of the material. The four groups were facilitated by the Peer Specialist Program Manager and DHS staff. The groups discussed and explored each section they were assigned, after which they shared their feedback with the larger group. Finally, the larger group was given time to add additional feedback. Throughout this process, thorough notes were taken on flip chart paper to account for every piece of feedback.

On August 13th, the Peer Specialist Program Manager and DHS staff met to debrief from the Curriculum Revision Workgroup and to put together a project proposal for review by the Integrated Services Section Chief at DHS. After approval, the feedback gathered from the Curriculum Revision Workgroup was transcribed and condensed into one document to aid in the revision process.

Scott writing on a flip chart during a trainer gathering Tim is in the foreground

Scott Caldwell tried out a section of the revised curriculum with our CPS trainers in September, 2019.

Diving into Revision

On September 3rd, and going until April of 2020, the Peer Specialist Program Manager (Tim), Peer Specialist Program Communications Assistant (myself – Brittyn), and DHS staff set about revising the structure and content of the CPS curriculum. Our core team met 2 – 3 times per week for approximately 7 hours each day to work on revision. Throughout the whole process, the CPS trainers’ feedback and the Wisconsin Certified Peer Specialist Core Competencies were kept close at hand and referred to frequently.

We benefited from the various strengths of all members of this core team throughout the process. Tim and myself brought forward the lens of peer support principles, first-hand experience working as Certified Peer Specialists, experience supervising teams of Certified Peer Specialists, as well as our lived experience. Tim and I also had the benefit of being very familiar with the challenges and successes of training during the pilot period. Cory, the Peer Run Respite & Peer Services Coordinator at DHS, brought a very grounding and methodical approach to the group as we set deadlines, reviewed formatting expectations and guidelines, and worked our way through the project plan. Joann, the Consumer Affairs Coordinator at DHS as well as a Certified Parent Peer Specialist, provided a wealth of experience in advocating within systems and supporting trauma-informed approaches. Scott, also from DHS who has helped with the training of CPS trainers in Wisconsin, offered crucial expertise and insights relating to communication frameworks, implementation science, and effective training elements.

In efforts to get as much input and feedback as possible, a variety of people were brought in to support the team throughout the process in specific content areas covered in the curriculum. These included other DHS staff, CPS trainers, members of the Certified Peer Specialist Advisory Committee, as well as state and national leaders in mental health and substance use. These individuals provided support on topics including:

  • Cultural components and the role of power, privilege, and systemic oppression
  • Effective self-disclosure
  • Functions of diagnosis and labeling lived experience
  • Historical context for Certified Peer Specialists
  • Navigating service systems
  • Spirituality and peer support
  • Substance use recovery supports
  • Harm reduction
  • Supporting people thinking of or considering suicide
  • Values systems and their role in connecting

The team met regularly with the Integrated Services Section Chief throughout the process and provided regular updates to the Certified Peer Specialist Advisory Committee, as well as posting regular updates to the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative’s social media pages.

Brittyn on left, Joann center, Tim on right smiling for a picture on a revision day

Brittyn (left), Joann (center), and Tim (right) smile for a picture on a January revision day at Access to Independence.

In March and April of 2020, the revision team reviewed changes, made finishing touches, and finally submitted the first draft of the revised CPS curriculum to UW-Milwaukee School of Continuing Education for editing and formatting.

After UW-Milwaukee School of Continuing Education completes its review, the revised CPS curriculum will be submitted to DHS for final review and approval. This is a multi-step process that will also involve the revision team responding to feedback provided by the DHS approval team. Once this process is completed, the revised CPS curriculum will be returned to UW-Milwaukee School of Continuing Education for printing.

Late this summer, a mandatory retraining of the CPS trainers will take place in order to ensure that trainers are prepared to effectively facilitate the revised curriculum.

What’s Different?

Because the revised CPS curriculum is still a draft and is currently in the review process, we can’t share too much about specific changes yet. What we can share is that we are so proud of and grateful for the work that was done and contribution made by so many throughout this revision.

The cover page for the revised CPS curriculum

We believe this revised curriculum will better center peer support principles, clarify the professional role of a Certified Peer Specialist, and prepare people for the workplace, all while supporting effective adult learning. One big improvement is sure to be a reinvigorated focus on effective listening and communication skill-development for Certified Peer Specialists. Other topics such as supporting peers around the topic of suicide, honoring multiple pathways to recovery, spirituality and peer support, and trauma-informed peer support are expanded upon and refreshed to better develop Wisconsin’s valuable Certified Peer Specialist workforce.

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