Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Home page

Peer Support

Washington State's Peer Support Program has trained and qualified mental health consumers as Certified Peer Counselors since 2005.  A "consumer" is someone who has applied for, is eligible for, or who has received mental health services.  This also includes parents and legal guardians when they have a child under the age of 13, or a child 13 or older and they are involved in their treatment plan (WAC 388-865-0150).

Certified Peer Counselors work with their peers, adults and youth, and the parents of children receiving mental health services.  Certified Peer Counselors draw upon their experiences to help their peers find hope and make progress toward recovery.  Because of their own life experience, they are uniquely equipped to provide support, encouragement and resources to those with mental health challenges.

The peer support program is managed by the Office of Consumer Partnerships (OCP).  The OCP is guided by adult, youth and family representatives with behavioral health concerns.

For more information contact:
Bonnie Staples - Peer Support Program Administrator
(360) 725-1883

Certified peer counselors help consumers and families identify goals that promote recovery and resiliency and help to identify services and activities to reach these goals. They also:

  • Help individuals and families take specific steps to achieve goals, such as building social support networks, managing internal and external stress, and navigating service delivery systems.  
  • Share their own experiences in recovery to encourage consumers and families to regain hope and control over their own lives.
  • Promote personal responsibility for recovery and assist consumers and families in learning to advocate for themselves.
  • Model competency in ongoing coping skills.
  • Work with consumers in groups or individually. Many work for licensed community mental health agencies or their subcontractors.

To qualify, a consumer must submit an application to the Peer Support Program. Once approved, the applicant will be placed on the waiting list for training. 

After completing the training, each applicant must pass the certification exam.  The exam is typically offered three weeks after the training and contains both an oral and written portion.  Applicants have three attempts to pass the exam, after which they may request to be re-trained.  Additional training is not guaranteed. 

Once an applicant successfully completes the training and passes the exam they become qualified as a Certified Peer Counselor.  Those who work for licensed community mental health centers may be required by their employer to seek a counselor credential from the Washington State Department of Health, as a funding requirement for Medicaid-paid Peer Support.

Trainings sponsored by DBHR are typically offered 4-6 times per year.  Some Regional Support Networks (RSNs) also offer training.  Contact the RSN in your area to find out about their trainings: http://www.dshs.wa.gov/dbhr/rsn.shtml#dbhr.  All trainings are 40 hours and uses a state-approved curriculum.

There are currently three types of Certified Peer Counseling trainings available: standard training, family and youth training, and Spanish training.  All trainings are for the same certification.  There is a box on the application form to indicate your preference.  

The DBHR training schedule and manuals are located in the right column of this page.

DBHR piloted a new curriculum in Family and Youth Certified Peer Counselor training in 2013. This training, while covering the same topics as the standard training, is specifically designed to prepare parent and youth Certified Peer Counselors.

Parents and youth often benefit from learning with a larger group of their peers. Parents and youth are welcome to take the standard training as well, and will be invited to all trainings according to preferences stated in their applications.

If you would like to take this training during 2014, and your application for training was approved before April 1, 2014, please contact Bonnie Staples to update your preferences.

Please use the following process to submit an application:

  1. Print the application form (found in the right column of this webpage) and carefully read and follow all instructions.  
  2.  All questions must be answered completely.  Incomplete applications will be returned. 
  3. All applications are submitted to DBHR, including applications for the Youth and Family training.
  4. Applications are read and scored as described in the application instructions. Applicants will receive a letter informing them whether their application has been approved.

Once approved, applicants are placed on a waiting list for trainings. Trainings are filled by priority and application date, and invitations are issued about a month before each training.

Applicants may not request to be enrolled in specific trainings. Some trainings are offered for people in specific regions, and some are available statewide. It is not possible to predict when a training opportunity will be available.  Wait times for training can be a year or longer. Applicants should ensure their contact information remains updated.

DBHR can only notify applicants when they are being invited to a training.  However, if you have not been invited to a training within a year, please contact Bonnie Staples at (360) 725-1883 to ensure your contact information is correct.

1. The NEW Certified Peer Counselor application form will used beginning March 13, 2014.  Both the old form and the new form will be accepted until April 30, 2014. After this date, only new application forms will be accepted. There are several changes to the application, including education requirements and scoring criteria for the questions. Individuals who have been approved for training do not need to fill out new applications until 12 months after submitting the old form.  New applications will be required after this.

2. All state-sponsored continuing education classes for Certified Peer Counseling are being offered through Washington State University and are posted as information becomes available.  Please direct all questions to the contact listed in the Continuing Education section on the right. Other classes may be available through other sources in your communities. The Regional Support Network in your area may be able to provide you with information about additional opportunities for training. 

The Peer Support Program is establishing a distribution list to relay job and training notices, as well as other related announcements, to interested parties.  If you would like to join this distribution list, please email Wanda Johns at Wanda.Johns@dshs.wa.gov with “Peer Support Distribution List” in your subject line.  You may be removed from this list anytime by emailing your request to Wanda.

You may also wish to be added to the distribution list for monthly webinars led by the Office of Consumer Partnerships.  Topics often include peer support and program development.