, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 397-411

Consumers as mental health providers: First-person accounts of benefits and limitations

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Community support programs are increasingly establishing paid service positions designated exclusively for consumers. Project WINS (Work Incentives and Needs Study), a hybrid case management-vocational program for individuals with severe mental illness, used consumers as peer support specialists (PSSs) to supplement professional roles. Semistructured interviews were conducted with PSSs about 12 months after their employment ended. They identified substantial personal benefits specific to consumer-designated roles (e.g., a “safe” employment setting with accommodations) and general benefits from employment. Problems described were just as numerous, encompassing attitudes toward assigned peers and costs to their own well-being. Critical commentary addressed program operations (structure, supervision, and training needs) and problems in the mental health system. The authors discuss the changed sense of self that service provider roles can create for consumers and suggest that mental health administrators provide anticipatory socialization for this service innovation throughout their agencies and ongoing supports for consumers in their new roles.