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MHA National Certified Peer Specialist Certification-- Get Certified!

Peer support specialists are in demand across systems and sectors. To meet this demand, Mental Health America has created the first national advanced peer specialist certification. This lets peers show they have the highest levels of knowledge and expertise that qualifies them to support people wherever they are.

The MHA National Certified Peer Specialist (MHA NCPS) certification recognizes peers with the lived experience, training, and job experience to work alongside healthcare teams. The certification is designed to exceed the standards used in public behavioral health around the country. A major purpose of the certification is to meet the needs of private health insurers and private practitioners. Expansion of peer support into the private sector will open up new career paths and opportunities, which have been previously unexplored, for thousands of peer supporters.

This certification has been peer initiated and conceived. We have worked with a stellar group of subject matter experts most of whom are accomplished leaders in the peer community. Within the community there has been much concern that professionalizing peer support will take away from its true nature. True to the spirit of peer support, the credential does not mean a peer is a clinician. It emphasizes and expects that all duties reflect the principles, guidelines, and core values of peer support. 

It is not designed to replace current trainings but to build upon and enhance current programs. This means adding additional competencies to ensure peers are able to meet the demands of a changing workforce and increasing opportunities. The private health sector offers a wide array of work opportunities for qualified peer support workers including:

  • Working in private practice alongside psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed mental health therapists
  • Working in primary care, emergency departments, and inpatient settings
  • Working as members of Whole Health Care Teams
  • Working in supervision roles.

MHA has conducted a series of pilot programs placing peer specialists with enhanced training as providers of peer support within a national HMO, Kaiser Permanente (KP). Our experiences with KP and continued work in piloting peer support in the private sector have given us a wealth of information about meeting the standards and requirements of a national insurance company and private practitioners.

Supporting people in achieving and maintaining recovery takes compassion and skills. With more opportunities for peers to work in a variety of systems and settings, earning the MHA NCPS credential shows that you have the highest levels of knowledge and skills required to thrive as a peer support specialist. 

The MHA National Certified Peer Specialist credential was developed in partnership with the Florida Certification Board with additional funding through the Alkermes Inspiration Grant program and a gift from Mental Health America's Anonymous Donor.

Read our guide to get certified here!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why did MHA create this certification?

Moving peer support into the private sector requires national, higher, and uniform standards. This certification is designed to satisfy the needs of the private sector, opening up new opportunities, career pathways, and higher wages for peers. The certification was created with the input of thousands of peers and many peer leaders.

Does this replace state certifications?

No. Because of the standards for training and experience, we anticipate nearly all peers in states with certifications will hold state certification.

What are the requirements to get certified?

To become a MHA NCPS, you must have:

  • A minimum of 18 months documented experience (3,000 hours);
  • A minimum of a High School Diploma/GED;
  • In-depth knowledge of 6 domains of practice (Foundations of Peer Support; Foundations of Healthcare Systems; Mentoring, Shared Learning, and Relationship Building; Activation and Self-Management; Advocacy; and Personal and Ethical Responsibilities);
  • Prior state certification requiring a minimum of 40 hours of peer support training OR completion of a MHA approved training and employment in a peer role; and
  • A passing score on in-person moderated examination

Is my training approved?

MHA Training Partners

  • Appalachian Consulting Group Peer Specialist Core Recovery Curriculum Training: The Appalachian Consulting Group has trained peer specialists in 35 states after creating the GA Certified Peer Specialist Curriculum introduced in 2001 for pioneering Medicaid-billable peer support services. Our curriculum, or ACG and state approved modifications of it, is used in most states and parts of Canada.
  • The Institute for Recovery and Community Integration Certified Peer Specialist Training: The Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania is home of the Institute for Recovery and Community Integration.  The Institute has been authorized by the State Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to train and certify Peer Support Specialists and Peer Support Supervisors in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania since 2007.  We have trained over 3500 Certified Peer Specialists and 1200 CPS Supervisors. The Certified Peer Specialist curriculum focuses on the principles and philosophy of recovery and, throughout the course relates to individuals by applying their personal lived experiences to the core skills, knowledge and beliefs of peer-to-peer support. The Certified Peer Specialist Supervisor course hones in supervisors’ skills, knowledge and beliefs with to ensure the growth and development of Peer Support Specialists as they serve in the peer environment. Read more here.

Other Approved Trainings

What kind of work experience is required?

3,000 hours of verifiable experience in a peer support role is required. This is approximately a year and a half of full-time work. Work experience can be full-time, part-time, paid, or volunteer.

What do I have to know for the examination?

The MHA NCPS examination requires knowledge across 6 domains and 55 individual skillsets and areas of expertise, including:

  • Domain 1: Foundations of Peer Support
    • Describe the civil and human rights foundations from which the peer support movement arose, including issues related to prejudice, discrimination and stigma associated with behavioral health conditions.
    • Develop a working knowledge of the terms peer support, peer and recovery as established by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the International Association of Peer Specialists (iNAPS).
    • Develop a working knowledge of the recovery process, stages of change, and recovery capital. 
    • Develop a working knowledge of the SAMHSA and iNAPS guiding principles, practice guidelines and core values of peer support.
    • Describe how peer support is shifting care from an illness model to a recovery model.
    • Develop a working knowledge of the holistic nature of recovery as it pertains to physical, behavioral, social, spiritual, and environmental determinants of health. 
    • Compare and contrast the concept of recovery as it is used across behavioral and physical health environments.
    • Compare and contrast the current role of peer support services in public healthcare system vs. the emerging market for peer services in private/commercial healthcare systems.
    • Explain how peer support services can help individuals address barriers to recovery, including stigma, social isolation, and the ability to navigate complex healthcare and other human service systems.
    • Explain the impact of trauma on an individual's physical and behavioral health.
    • Explain the core principles of trauma-informed care.
    • Describe how to provide peer support services that reflect trauma-informed care principles and strategies.
  • Domain 2: Foundations of Healthcare Systems
    • Develop a working knowledge of the concepts of whole health, wellness and holistic healthcare.
    • Describe a variety of healthcare settings and how peer support services can be integrated in these settings, including primary care settings, in-patient settings, emergency departments, crisis stabilization, mobile crisis teams, respite, psychosocial rehabilitation, outpatient behavioral health programs, peer-run programs, and the professionals who may serve in these settings (i.e., psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, primary care physicians.)
    • Understand the role of healthcare professionals that may be members of an individual’s care team, including psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, primary-care doctors/nurses, specialty-care doctors/nurses, community health workers, case managers, and other professionals.
    • Describe a variety of traditional (such as CBT, DBT, Medication Management, etc.) and non-traditional healthcare services (such as yoga, nutritional management, music, art or drama therapy, etc.).
    • Describe how to assist other healthcare team members to learn about the process of recovery, the concept of resiliency, and the relationship between person-centered, self-directed care and achievement of whole health goals.
    • Develop a working knowledge of actions and techniques that will assist the individual to identify, use and strengthen their natural resiliency skills when dealing with symptoms and stressors.
    • Develop a working knowledge of the social determinants of health and how these factors can impact an individual’s health and well-being.
    • Develop a working knowledge of primary risk factors and the associated prevention/early intervention strategies that will help the individual navigate risk and promote health and well-being.
    • Describe how to learn about different therapeutic/clinical treatment modalities included in the individual’s care plan in order to tailor peer support services to help the individual achieve whole health goals.
    • Develop a working knowledge of common methods to pay for healthcare services, including public and private/commercial payers and appeals processes in order to help the individual navigate and choose between options.
    • Develop a working knowledge of healthcare benefits available for individuals living with debilitating behavioral health conditions in order to help the individual navigate and choose between options.
    • Demonstrate a basic knowledge of medical language and chart/record documentation standards in order to communicate effectively with members of the care team and help the individual understand clinical situations and/or terminology.
  • Domain 3: Mentoring, Shared Learning and Relationship Building
    • Effectively and appropriately share relevant parts your own recovery story, and, with permission, other stories of recovery to convey and inspire hope that recovery is possible in a manner that keeps the focus on the individual receiving services, not the peer specialist.
    • Describe how to establish, negotiate and maintain appropriate interpersonal limits and boundaries necessary to promote effective peer support services.
    • Assist the individual to articulate their personal strengths, needs, preferences, and goals related to health, home, education, purpose, and the larger community.
    • Use shared-learning strategies and other adult learning techniques to help the individual learn about available health, wellness, and recovery supports and services.
    • Use shared-learning strategies and other adult learning techniques to help the individual learn the life skills they identify as necessary to achieve whole health goals.
    • Effectively use technology, when possible, as a means to engage and provide peer support services to individuals living in rural or remote settings or experiencing other barriers to traditional “face-to-face” interaction.
    • Use effective communication skills that demonstrate acceptance, respect, empathy and non-judgement in order to learn what the individual receiving services has to say about their life, their strengths, and their hopes for recovery in order to tailor peer services as necessary to help the individual engage in the recovery process and achieve their whole health goals.
    • Recognize and understand your own personal values, culture and spiritual beliefs and how they may contribute to your own judgments, biases and beliefs about others and how to respond if these may inhibit your ability to effectively serve another individual.
    • Recognize and respect the individual’s personal values, cultural and spiritual beliefs and how these play a role in achieving whole health goals.
  • Domain 4: Activation and Self-Management
    • Develop a working knowledge of the concepts of “activation” and “self-management” of whole health goals.
    • Assist the individual to develop decision making strategies and function as an active member of his or her own recovery team, to include the selection of traditional and non-traditional recovery strategies, supports, and providers.
    • Assist the individual to identify and take actions necessary to develop behaviors that support achievement of whole health goals.
    • Help the individual learn how to access and navigate formal and informal community resources and services.
    • Help the individual to anticipate and avert, or safely manage any re-experience of symptoms of his or her condition(s) to ensure continued wellness.
    • Help the individual to respond to any setbacks on their recovery journey as an opportunity for learning additional techniques or strategies to achieve and maintain whole health goals.
    • Identify indicators that the individual may be re-experiencing symptoms of his or her condition(s) and provide early intervention strategies to avert crisis and/or the need for intensive services.
    • Assist the individual to develop and activate self-management plans, advanced directives, recovery prevention strategies and crisis prevention strategies.
    • Provide on-going support, over time, to assure the individual is engaged in long-term, recovery-oriented self-management.
    • Provide access to a range of activation and self-care tools and resources that the individual may find useful in achieving whole health goals.
    • Help the individual learn how to locate and evaluate the effectiveness of online activation tools and resources like phone apps, twitter feeds, discussion boards, interactive programs and more.
  • Domain 5: Advocacy
    • Demonstrate a working knowledge of relevant rights and laws to ensure that the individual receiving services’ rights are maintained.
    • Promote self-determination and person-centered services when communicating with other members of the individual’s care team.
    • Help the individual develop self-advocacy skills.
    • Identify and communicate gaps in the service system to supervisors or others in a position to respond to the unmet needs of individuals being served.
  • Domain 6: Professional and Ethical Responsibilities: The core competencies in this domain are related to the peer specialist’s responsibility to perform job tasks according to federal and state laws, agency policies, and best practices. This domain also includes tasks necessary to demonstrate that the credentialed individual is only working/performing tasks within their scope of service, seeking supervision and professional development opportunities.
    • Maintain confidentiality in accordance with state and federal laws.
    • Document service provision in accordance with agency policies and procedures.
    • Perform all job duties in accordance with federal and state rules and regulations.
    • Perform all job duties in accordance with published codes of ethics and professional conduct for credentialed peer support specialists.
    • Seek supervision as necessary and appropriate to competently perform the job duties of a peer specialist in a manner that reflects the guiding principles and core values of the peer support movement regardless of employer.
    • Practice personal safety and self-care.
    • Understand and explain the peer specialists’ scope of service (i.e., know what you can and cannot do as a credentialed peer specialist).

What is the cost of certification?

The fee for the examination is $200, and the cost of the application and certification is $225. A limited number of scholarships will be available at www.NationalPeerSpecialist.org.

How do I get certified?

To start your journey to becoming a MHA NCPS, go to www.NationalPeerSpecialist.org!

More information:

Additional funding for the MHA NCPS program was provided through the Alkermes Inspiration Grant program and a gift from Mental Health America's Anonymous Donor.

500 Montgomery Street, Suite 820
 Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone (703) 684.7722

Toll Free (800) 969.6642

Fax (703) 684.5968

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