SAMHSA, HHS Roll Out New National Model Standards for Behavioral Health Peer Support Certification

Federal health agencies have released new national model standards for peer support certification focused on the behavioral health workforce.

The goal of the model standards – penned by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Office of Recovery, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – is to speed up the “universal adoption, recognition and integration” of the peer mental health workforce across the country.

The model standards are intended as a guide for states, territories and tribes as they implement certification programs.


Specifically, the agencies rolled out the guidelines to help promote reciprocity and alignment between states.

“Peer workers play a crucial role in overdose prevention, crisis intervention, and in the promotion of recovery, resiliency and well-being across the nation,” HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon said in a statement. “These standards will help accelerate their participation in the workforce as partners in the delivery of mental health and substance use services.”

Delphin-Rittmon is also the head of SAMHSA.


Forty-nine out of 50 states have implemented state-endorsed or state-run peer certification programs.

Now, this peer certification could help boost the utilization of peers in the behavioral health workforce.

“Certification processes for peer workers offer a range of benefits to the peer workforce, their employers, and the individuals being served,” a newly published guide on the standards explains. “Employers and the public may feel more confident in the services being provided by certified peer workers, and certification often assists peer workers with finding paid positions, and in some cases allows employing organizations to bill Medicaid, private insurers, and third-party payors for services that are provided by a certified peer worker. “

The model standards recommend two types of certifications: mental health and substance use peer certifications, and family peer certifications. The guide also outlines the recommended standard hours of training, formal education, supervised work experience and examination requirements for peers.

Peers have often been used to help support individuals with substance use disorder or a mental illness.

Still, fragmented certification processes have led to reimbursement hurdles.

The federal government has rolled out a number of initiatives to promote peer support workers. For example, in 2015, SAMHSA released the Core Competencies for Peer Workers in Behavioral Health Services, which outlined the skills and abilities needed to work as a peer support specialist.

A number of private companies are also utilizing the peer support workforce.

For example, firsthand, which recently raised $28 million in funding, uses a peer-support model to help patients with serious mental illness access care. Additionally, California-based SCAN Health Plan, which cares for seniors, uses a peer model to help its members address behavioral health concerns.

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