Peer specialists: Exploring the influence of program structure on their emerging role

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry; Implementation Science and Practice Advances Research Center

Publication Date


Document Type



Mental and Social Health | Psychiatry | Psychiatry and Psychology | Psychology


Although peer specialists play an increasing role in mental health service delivery, little is known about the best program structures for maximizing effective service delivery. This study reports on qualitative data from a larger study on peer specialists working with veterans in a Veterans Affairs homelessness program who were dually diagnosed with substance abuse and mental health concerns. Peer specialists were trained to deliver a recovery support program that is carried out weekly over 9 months and includes 20 structured sessions using a workbook and 20 unstructured, individually planned sessions. A sample of 20 veterans who were in the program were interviewed, along with 8 case managers and 3 peer specialists involved with the program. Interview transcripts were coded for 3 elements of program structure: time, content, and delivery. Results show that the program structure allowed flexibility for individual needs and that the workbook sessions were useful. Veterans ascribed value to the peer specialist delivering the content, compared to working alone on the material. Deliberate use of unstructured time with the peer specialist was seen as reducing isolation, increasing community integration, and encouraging recovery activities. The weekly, dependable nature of the program was seen as highly positive, whereas the 9-month duration was seen as too short. All groups interviewed expressed satisfaction with the program, although the case managers reported some reservations related to supervision and boundaries. Results suggest that, compared to completely structured or unstructured approaches that are common for peer specialist services, a middle level of structure for peer specialist programs could be a useful alternative.

DOI of Published Version



Psychol Serv. 2019 Aug;16(3):445-455. doi: 10.1037/ser0000250. Epub 2018 Nov 8. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Psychological services

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID