Integrating Peer Support into Your Organization

January – September 2017


SAMHSA’s National Center for Trauma-Informed Care and Alternatives to Restraint and Seclusion's (NCTIC) Virtual Learning Network (VLN): “Integrating Peer Support into Your Organization.”

Over the last 10 years, two overlapping developments in behavioral health services have seen exponential growth. First, peer support has increasingly been incorporated as an integral component of the behavioral health service delivery system to promote recovery, wellness, and resiliency.  Second, more and more community behavioral health and allied service and health agencies and organizations are seeking to develop trauma-informed approaches in the way they deliver services. Concurrently, state and local systems are looking at new ways to address adverse childhood experiences, child abuse and neglect, bullying, interpersonal violence, sexual and gender-based violence, community violence, and more. 

In response to these trends, more and more states have developed peer specialist training and certification requirements, and have identified sustained mechanisms for reimbursing peer support services, whether through Medicaid waiver programs, managed care, block grant, or other financing approaches. On the other hand, systematic efforts to help organizations integrate peer support in a trauma-informed manner have been spotty, whether in leadership support, policy development, staff buy-in, clarity of roles, recruitment and hiring, or supervision and staff retention. 

The purpose of this VLN is to help participating organizations effectively integrate, implement, and sustain peer supports using a trauma-informed approach as part of a broader effort to become a trauma-informed organization.


This “working” classroom event consists of monthly facilitated virtual classroom presentations on the Adobe® Connect™ platform. Course work and materials will help participants to understand and implement the principles of trauma-informed approaches and facilitate meaningful peer involvement. Sessions include a collaborative partnership with VLN colleagues – sharing challenges and innovations with other group members. Participants will also have access to ongoing coaching and may be able to receive on-site technical assistance.

Each organization will include two or more key staff members who will form an active virtual learning team and oversee implementation of peer integration in their respective organizations. These staff members should be viewed as recovery champions by their colleagues and hold decision making capacity. It is recommended that at least one of the participants self-identify as a trauma survivor and/or a person in recovery.

This VLN will:

  1. Explore SAMHSA’s principles of trauma-informed care and implementation domains;
  2. Share best practices and practical perspectives on peer integration through diverse guest presentations;
  3. Identify the opportunities and barriers to meaningful involvement of peers throughout all levels of the organization or program;
  4. Help participating organizations formulate action plans for increased peer integration; and
  5. Provide individualized technical assistance to help organizations implement their action plans and sustain changes over time.


Leah Harris, M.A. has written and spoken widely about her lived experiences of trauma, addiction, serious mental health challenges, and healing/resilience. Leah is passionate about promoting trauma-informed approaches across systems, sectors, and communities. Leah works with the National Association for State Mental Health Program Directors’ (NASMHPD) where she is currently employed as Peer Integration Strategist. She provides training and technical assistance through SAMHSA’s National Center for Trauma Informed Care (NCTIC), and has worked with numerous organizations across the U.S. in her capacity as a Trauma-Informed Peer Support trainer. She is also a suicide attempt survivor who works to promote a trauma-informed approach to suicide prevention/intervention, and is a faculty member with the Zero Suicide initiative.

Melody Riefer, M.S.W., is a senior program manager at Advocates Human Potential, Inc. (AHP). During her more than 30-year career, she has worked as a practitioner, manager, educator, consultant and advocate —accruing expertise in policy and organizational development, service delivery systems, and implementation sciences. Before joining AHP, Melody worked as a trainer and consultant focusing on recovery support services and systems. Her projects included developing implementation and training protocols for shared decision making, consulting with state and local behavioral health authorities; developing infrastructure solutions for statewide mental health consumer networks, and creating curricula for certification and training processes for peer delivered services. She is a highly sought after trainer and public speaker, reaching across multiple disciplines and venues. Her professional work is grounded in her personal experience within the behavioral healthcare system as an individual and family member and knowing that living one’s life to the fullest should always be the expected outcome.


SAMHSA's Core Competencies for Peer Workers in Behavioral Health Services can be found here.

The Provider’s Handbook On Developing & Implementing Peer Roles, By Lyn Legere of Lyn Legere Consulting With contributions from the Western Mass Peer Network & Sera Davidow of the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community can be found here.

The recording for the first session, "Integrating Peer Support in your Organization", can be found here.
The presentation for the first session can be downloaded here.

The recording for the second session, "What do we Mean by Peer Integration", can be found here.
The presentation for the second session can be downloaded here.

The recording for the third session, "Laying the Groundwork", can be found here.
The presentation for the third session can be downloaded here.

The recording for the fourth session can be found here.
The presentation for the fourth session can be downloaded here.

The recording for the fifth session, "Strategies for Effective Integration", can be found here.
The presentation for the fifth session can be downloaded here.

The recording for the sixth session, "Integrating Peer Workers: A Cultural Journey", can be found here.
The presentation for the sixth session can be downloaded here.

The recording for the seventh session, "The Importance of Growing New Leaders from within the Peer Workforce", can be found here.
The presentation for the seventh session can be found here.

The recording for the eighth session, "Lessons Learned, Moving Forward", can be found here.
The presentation for the eighth session can be found here.


Please email Leah Harris at if you have additional questions regarding this VLN.