Peer Specialists/Peer Supporters
Consumers as Providers
Mental Health Consumers/Survivors as Providers of Mental Health Services
Presented by Pat Risser


Mental health consumers/survivors were not always valued for their experience and expertise in helping others. However, their contributions today cannot be denied. Their contributions are invaluable both in terms of helping others as well as how the consumer/survivor providers have helped themselves.

Pat Risser has been involved with training of this sort since the beginning over twenty years ago. Recently, when he taught another class in Oregon, several students said that in over ten or more years with the mental health system, they hadn't been helped as much as they had in just a couple of weeks with this training. (Read Student Comments/Testimony Below) Pat asked, "What is it that makes such a difference?"

The students responded that it was two primary things. First, that the class was being taught by Pat. Pat is a consumer/survivor himself and his inspirational journey of recovery provided hope for the students. He provided a role model of peer support and proved that recovery is possible. The second thing that made a major difference to the students was that Pat told them from the very beginning of class, "You are NOT your diagnosis!"

We all have many roles in life. We are husband, wife, brother, sister, worker, student, teacher, etc. However, many times people who come to the mental health system for help end up allowing the role of "mental patient" to become their primary role. Tragically, this may mean that if we have therapy and at the same time our wife, husband, children or others need us, we will choose to attend therapy because all of our other roles have become so diminished.

In this first illustration, we see the typical "mental patient." This person has become primarily a "mental patient." There is no sense of balance and all other roles are strictly secondary. Often, this person has no life outside of "mental health."

In this second illustration, we see a person who has been through the consumer/survivor training. They have a restored sense of self. They have "recovered" their sense of self-worth, self-esteem and self-value. There is a more balanced perspective with the "mental patient" aspect of their "self" minimized.

About half way through the class in the Summer of 2005, several of the students wrote letters to the county mental health director (Melinda Mowrey) to thank her for supporting the training. Some also thanked the Director of Adult Services (Jessica Leitner) and the Director of State Vocational Rehabilitation Services (Stephanie Parrish-Taylor) for their support. These letters provide a powerful testimonial for the recovery potential that is built into this training. Here are some of their letters (as well as some from subsequent classes):

Student Comments/Testimony

"Class is a living learning recovery machine..."
"...confidence is better"
"...doing for me what Prozac could never do"
"...four weeks did more than years and years of therapy"
"...four years of counseling to four weeks of class"
"...growth people have experienced"
"I hold my head nice and high..."
"I'm getting some self respect back..."
"...if the Consumer has a voice they can recover.htm"
"...learned how to deal with problems"
" meaning and a new passion for life"
"Nine years of therapy can not amount to the five weeks of education
"...opened my mind"
" has created a fire or passion for life within me"


"...a Window Into Recovery"
"all that valuable information..."
"At Last A Program That Works..."
"...back with a Support Network first time in years"
"Before SPIRIT I was without Hope..."
"I was Homeless and in a Deep Depression but Now I have Hope"
"My life has been enriched..."
"Over 20 Years and Now SPIRIT..."
"SPIRIT saved my life!"
"...truly AWESOME!"


"...gained friends, support, knowledge, tools, acceptance"
"...gave me so much hope"
"...helped me a lot"
"...hope for a better future"
"...miracle elixir of ho pe and fellowship"
"...most awesome support system"
"...strength is the people"
"You're the bomb!"


"August 11, 2005

Melinda Mowery, Director
Clackamas County Mental Health
Oregon City, OR 97045
Subject: S.P.I.R.I.T. Training
Dear Melinda Mowery,

I want to thank you for providing this opportunity to my daughter-in-law, xxxxxxx xxxxxxx. She has grown so much since beginning your class. Her life now has meaning and purpose. Her depression and mental issues have always seemed uppermost in her thoughts. Prior to beginning these classes her main answer to conflict and problems in her life was suicide and/or preoccupation with suicidal ideology. As a result of this class, she has been changing for the better.

It is only the halfway point in the training and she now has learned the confidence to handle most of her problems. After four weeks I can hardly believe the change, our little mouse has become a lioness. She has been able to get up in front of various groups and make announcements or facilitate the class and has made speeches without fear. I was concerned about her outlook on life in the midst of such major issues, but she has used the coping skills she has learned and connected to her peers for support. She now demonstrates an internal calmness and seems to be able to handle most issues as the family anchor and support.

The application process alone brought her light at the end of the tunnel. It arrived while her husband was in the hospital, her sister was scheduled for heart surgery, and her mother discovered she had colon cancer. Normally, that information alone would have brought her to her knees. Although religion is not a classroom focus, her spiritual strength has increased right along with her improved strength of character.

I am very impressed with her ability to handle her new marriage, larger family, and financial issues. Although her husband's job was the only family income, they were able to discuss the two-month class as an opportunity she could not pass up. The lack of income has created some intense financial difficulties but the calmness and resourcefulness have proven to assure that the family's needs were cared for. This would have been too much for her to handle before, she is actually learning how to handle life and is a joy to be around.

I feel a lot of this is due to what she has learned in this class, she has learned so many great coping skills and has begun to use them in the community to help others. The church has asked her to consider working in their emergency services department to help find options for those in need and to give some presentations about mental health. She has been offered other positions as well, and I am looking forward to watching her continue to grow through the remainder of the training.

Please, do anything you can to continue this training program for others. I have never seen her so full of life. I think you are doing great work, keep it up!

Best wishes,
Mother-In-Law of xxxxxxxx"


"Here's a great SPIRIT story. Today (April) I saw xxxxxxx for a counseling appointment. He graduated from SPIRIT yesterday. I could not believe the difference in him.

"When I first met him in December his hygiene was casual and his attitude was negative. He has both physical and mental limitations (he's in a chair) and he told me that he only has one kidney and it is starting to slow down. He said that he was only at VR to "exercise my options" and that there was not much use in committing to a rehab. program because he was going to die soon. He really said that. I suggested he take one class in January at XXXXXXXXX Community College, but he didn't want to commit to the responsibility.

"I gave his file to our medical consultant and asked her, "is he really going to die soon? He's young and looks so robust." She did her medical review and listed his many physical issues. But she also said that although his main medical risk was kidney deterioration, it might not cause significant problems and his psychological issues seemed to be his biggest barrier.

"Today, after completing SPIRIT, he came back for another counseling session. He is a different person. He has plans and he is serious. He is talking about getting his GED, volunteering at Free Geek for a better computer, and training for a computer repair or computer support job. He is clear eyed and clean shaven. WHAT A DIFFERENCE.

"Thanks, SPIRIT staffers, now I can work with him!

"It will be a while until we see a "rehab." I would say a couple of years because SPIRIT is just the start of the journey. This makes me wonder how we are going to measure the rehabs from SPIRIT when many of them will be this way."

xxxxxxx, M.Ed. Rehabilitation Counselor/MH Specialist Office of Vocational Rehabilitation

A FORMER STUDENT (Summer 2005) RECENTLY WROTE (April 2007):

I got out my SPIRIT handbook last night and was going through it and remembering all the things you presented. Good memories. I also went to the 4th graduation last week. It warms my heart that SPIRIT continues to touch students lives in such a powerful way, and the message of recovery continues to grow strong within me. Thank you. Love, xxxxxxxxx

In the History below, there is an explanation of how and why this training is different from all others. It is more flexible to meet the needs of individual students. It is also based upon a "Job Task Analysis" of people who actually provide services to help others.


History of Consumers/Survivors as Mental Health Providers (Consumer Case Manager Aide Program in Denver, Colorado - mid 1980's)

Growth Years in California
(O.F.F.I.C.E. - Office for Family Involvement and Consumer Empowerment to S.P.I.R.I.T. - Service Provider Individualized Recovery Intensive Training)

Continued Growth in Oregon

A Bit of Pat's History

Why Pat is an Advocate for this Training

Pat's Qualifications/Resume (Short Summary)(Detailed Resume)

More on Training/Teaching Mental Health Clients to Help Themselves

Additional Training and Consultation in Mental Health Available!

Link Back to Pat's Main Page

To E-mail Pat send to

Note there isn't a link to my email address. With no link, the spam bots that search the web are less likely to fill my e-mail with their garbage.

LAST UPDATED February 2007