People who have mental illnesses or substance use disorders need help recovering. These conditions can harm a person's ability to make good decisions, and getting support from someone who has been in recovery themselves can be invaluable.

Peer support, like having a sponsor, is a substance abuse and mental health service that has long been recognized for helping people begin a new life.

Because of this, the Texas Legislature made peer support a Medicaid benefit in the 2017 session. Qualified peer-support counselors can now be paid for helping people recover, starting as soon as Jan. 1.

Peer support specialists must go through training to be certified and take continuing education to keep their certification. They must also follow written standards and can be removed from the program if they do not follow them.

The Medicaid benefit won't replace sponsors in 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, who guide those recovering through the steps that can keep them from using.

"Peer specialists are open to any form of recovery and go with the person's choice," said Noah Abdenour, who led the stakeholder group that worked with HHS to develop the rules for the benefit. "They are professionals."

Certification will require core and specialty training in either mental health or substance use, followed by supervised work experience.  

"People in recovery find they need to address a range of problems, including achieving overall health and wellness," said Laura Munch of the HHS Substance Use Disorder Unit. "They do this best with the practical assistance and support of their peers."

Next Steps

The beginning of recovery is often a dark time. It can be difficult for someone to see a path out of the darkness. Having someone there who has found that path is a big part of the fight, said Wendy Latham, who works in Adult Mental Health Services and has faced her own battles with mental illness.

"I thought I'd be a potted plant for the rest of my life," Latham said. "Finding someone who had been through it was the key to my recovering. The biggest relief is knowing you aren't the only one and others have found the way out."

To learn more, email Behavioral Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services at IDD-BH_Peer_Support_Services-Medicaid_Benefit@hhsc.state.tx.us.