First Responders Overcoming Addiction through Peer Support: Part II

First Responders Overcoming Addiction through Peer Support: Part II


In our previous article, we talked about peer support as an intervention for addiction, one of the most troubling job hazards of being a first responder. In part II, we will talk more about what peer support really is and how it is providing benefits to firefighters and other first responders in many communities across America.


What does peer support mean?

Peer support has four basic core competencies. Those involved in peer support will receive training in these areas, providing them with the tools they need to do what they need to do.


The four identified core competencies for peer support are:


1. Recovery-oriented:

The peer supporter must learn the various pathways to recovery so that they may help their peer choose which is best suited for their particular circumstance.

2. Person-centered:

The solutions or options provided in peer support are chosen by the individual in recovery and must align with their personal needs, hopes, and goals as opposed to those of the peer supporter.

3. Relationship-focused:

The connection between the peer and peer supporter is mutually trusting, respectful, collaborative, and empathetic, as participation will require a great deal of active listening on the part of the peer supporter.

4. Trauma-informed:

Peer-support recovery seeks to re-establish a sense of empowerment and control. It should create an opportunity to rebuild a strong framework of psychological, physical, and emotional safety.


What is a Peer Supporter?

Typically, a peer supporter is an individual who has had similar experiences and who has a desire to institute a compassionate relationship with their peer in order to aid in their recovery.


Peer supporters draw from their own strengths and vulnerabilities, sharing their own stories and insights in a way that shows an understanding of the peer’s situation. This mutual bond will help to demonstrate how it is possible to overcome adversity, lending hope and helping to encourage forward movement.


Using active listening skills, the two individuals will share open and honest conversations that are nonjudgmental and free of guilt and shame. When the individual is finally able to open up about the issues that are most troubling, they will soon discover that there is hope and that it is possible to change. This may give them the strength and confidence they need to follow through and seek treatment.


Peer support is natural for firefighters

Firefighters – all first responders, in fact – are a brotherhood whose families and colleagues become instantly bonded through the realities of their calling. It can be said that only a fellow firefighter can possibly identify with what it is like to go through the trauma they experience every single day, whether that means removing bodies from a fatal car crash or saving people from a building on fire.


Firefighters are committed to serving their communities and risk their lives to do so each and every day. Participating in peer support gives them the opportunity to provide support to one of their own when they need it most, such as if they have succumbed to an addiction of any kind.


With awareness comes progress, and in many parts of America, there are peer support programs in place for firefighters in need. Additionally, Mental Health America has created a Peer Services Toolkit to assist organizations in the establishment of peer support programs.


Other special programs for first responders

On the heels of the growing awareness of PTSD among firefighters and other first responders, a national program called Frontline Responder Services was developed by Sprout Health Group. Developed for first responders by first responders, it is the only program of its kind for firefighters and their ilk who are struggling with addictions.


Through this program, participants work with retired first responders and are provided with a complete evaluation and treatment plan along with comprehensive, ongoing care for their entire family as well – a distinction that can potentially make all the difference in a firefighter’s life and livelihood.


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