Peer support specialists’ lived experience helps those they serve

Elizabeth Wygant and Kimberly Armstrong

Kimberly Armstrong says that she felt called to become a peer support specialist. She now works as one for Summit Pointe, the community mental health agency serving Calhoun County. Peer support specialists assist Summit Pointe’s clients with mental health issues, increasing independence in their communities, socialization, and networking. They also provide hope through sharing personal stories of recovery.
“Initially, my goal was to get a job to help more people in the community,” Armstrong says. “Then I became a peer support specialist because I felt like I could reach more people, so I received my Certified Peer Support Specialist (CPSS) certification in 2010.”
Like all State of Michigan certified peer support specialists, those working at Summit Pointe are in long-term recovery and have received mental health services themselves. Having lived experience is the hallmark of becoming a peer support specialist. The State of Michigan requires this lived experience as a prerequisite for applying for certification. Successful applicants complete a 40-hour certification training that culminates in a written exam.
Peer support specialists work alongside other professionals within the community mental health system. Their goal is to walk alongside a client and assist them with their goals toward recovery, which looks different for every person due to each individual’s varying needs and goals.
“The reach of a peer support specialist goes beyond the community mental health system,” says Elizabeth Wygant, director of community-based services for Summit Pointe. “Their value or goal is to reach as many individuals as possible throughout the community. This is achieved by being open and sharing hope and their story of recovery.”

For nearly half a century, Summit Pointe has been helping people with mental health illness and developmental disability reclaim their independence, regain confidence, and learn skills necessary for success. Summit Pointe’s peer support specialists assist those struggling with mental health issues — either directly or by referring them to more resources. Peer support specialists are also a source of hope for the future for those suffering the effects of mental illness and substance use disorder.
“Some examples of individuals I work with are those who live with a diagnosis of anxiety and/or depression,” Armstrong says. “By sharing my story of living with anxiety and depression, I am able to help individuals see that they can live their lives how they want and learn ways to cope with all different situations that their anxiety and depression may affect.”
Summit Pointe's 24/7 First Step Psychiatric Urgent Care Center is located at 175 College St. in Battle Creek.Summit Pointe measures its success based on the success of the communities and the people they serve. Main goals include helping individuals build inner strength, realize their potential, and enjoy the happiness they deserve. Summit Pointe seeks to provide the highest quality behavioral health services to help individuals maximize their potential. Peer support specialists reinforce those goals.

Armstrong shares a particular experience she had with someone seeking assistance who has now gone on to help others.
“One of my customers I worked with became a certified peer support specialist in Michigan,” she says with great pride. “I worked with her for about one-and-a-half to two years, helping her through her own recovery path. We worked on attending meetings in the community, socialization opportunities, and coping skills. By walking alongside her and sharing my own story with her, she found out that recovery is possible. She was inspired to help others as well, and that is why she pursued becoming certified as a peer support specialist herself.”
Serving county residents living with a mental health diagnosis, substance use disorder, or an intellectual or developmental disabilities, Summit Pointe’s doors are always open to — literally. Located at 175 College St. in Battle Creek , its 24/7 First Step Psychiatric Urgent Care Center requires no referrals or appointments. All ages are welcome no matter their ability to pay insurance status. Language interpretation services are available here as well.

Kelsey Sanders is a wellness professional and freelance writer and editor. She has lived in West Michigan her whole life and loves learning and writing about the many great things her area continues to do. When she’s not working, she’s staying home with her baby girl and enjoying the Lakeshore with her husband.

Open door photo by John Grap.
Other photos courtesy Summit Pointe.

The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of MichiganCenter for Health and Research TransformationGenesee Health SystemMental Health Foundation of West MichiganNorth Country CMHNorthern Lakes CMH AuthorityOnPointSanilac County CMHSt. Clair County CMHSummit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.