They'll be your guide, mentor, and a friend when the going gets tough. They're called Peer Support Specialists and they're a valuable resource to the Judiciary of Guam's therapeutic courts.
They've been there, done that. Now, they can use their experiences to help others, just like them. "They're people who've come through the program and they've come through their own addiction backgrounds," said Robyn Priest. "They're just wanting to give back and share with people who might still be struggling and haven't worked out how they can have the life of their dreams."
These individuals are graduates or soon-to-be graduates of the Judiciary of Guam's therapeutic courts. During trainings this week, they were given the tools to become Peer Support Specialists. Priest is the lead project coordinator for Peerlink National Technical Assistance Center. Using simple exercises, participants learned quickly it's not easy to change someone's mind.
"Who's going to tell me what their favorite food is and convince me why I need to have it as mine?" she said.
It became a food fight over favorite eats. Pizza lovers not changing the minds of sushi or pork chop fans.
Rather than force feed their opinions, participants learned that sharing their experiences with their favorite foods was just as effective. She said, "This is really simple and most of us are trying to make someone else change and that person's like, 'Screw you, I'm not changing!' It's not our place to try to convince someone that something should be different, but we explore with them - what is it about pork chop, not about I wanna change you."
"I think sometimes people are like scared of taking a step out of the life that they have because it's all they know at that particular point in time. And so I think the piece here is share from your experience about where you've come from and where you are now and how amazing that is," she said.
And research shows, peer support works. "It shows that people relapse less, in mental health they end up in hospitals less. They have shorter times in hospitals - people don't end up going through the system as much," said Priest.
The end goal is recovery. Priest said, "If we can support people and be non judgmental about it, and just work with people to find that thing to help them decide that they want a different life, like every single person can recover if they want to, from their addiction and their mental health. And peer support is one of the best ways to support people to really want to go after it and have it."