Brain Science and Updates From the Field

Peer Specialist speaks on important issue

Monday, January 25, 2016

Certified Peer Specialists serve a vital role in Stairways Behavioral Health’s mission of recovery, providing the valuable resource of having directly experienced mental illness.

This personal understanding serves not only as an asset for Stairways’ clients but also a wealth of knowledge for clinicians and other mental health professionals to tap into.

Peer Specialist Edna Lingenfelter’s recent work is an example of just that type of resource.

Lingenfelter (left, with colleague Theresa Abbey) works with 10 different peers who struggle with various mental health issues, such as self-esteem, depression and anxiety among others. And her insight into one specific issue—self-injury— has been the particular focus of Stairways staff recently.

Lingenfelter has recently made presentations on the topic to Stairways’ Board of Directors and the Assertive Community Treatment team.

“I shared ideas with our Board and staff about the work I'm doing with clients. And as a consumer, I spoke to how I’d want to be approached,” said Lingenfelter, who said she has a history with self-injury. Lingenfelter said having the credibility as someone who understands through experience why clients cut themselves has helped her establish trust with clients.

Self-harm, specifically cutting, is a difficult subject to understand for many, and treating the behavior can be challenging for clinicians, as each case is unique, she said.

“It’s instant—I guess you would say satisfaction,” she said. “People think the people who do it are suicidal when it’s actually the people who feel like their life is out of control and this is one thing that they can control.”

In her presentations, Lingenfelter offered alternative ways of addressing clients who often hide their cutting for fear of misunderstanding. She presented practical examples of coping mechanisms that have been effective with clients she has worked with, such as applying temporary tattoos, drawing on your arm and consulting a 1-800 self-injury hotline.

Lingenfelter said she sees helping clients find the proper tools such as these as the most important part of her job.

“I want people to see they can make the change in their lives or see that they already have the skills,” she said.

Lingenfelter’s work with self-injury is just one example of how Stairways’ use of its peer specialists program helps complement not only mental health treatment, but those providing that treatment as well.

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