Kim Dixon, BA, MSc, CPS (F) FAMILIES Peer Specialist (&Co.) Area Manager
Mile Marker 66: Family Peer Supporter
Family Best Practice
As I reach Mile Marker 66 and begin to consider the next turn in my life’s journey, a look in the rear-view mirror reveals almost 24 years of travel with FAMILIES™ of BCSS. I was lost in the beginning and needed a map – no GPS in those early days to help me find my way. I rode a dirt track, kicking up a lot of dust until a sign showed up in 2000 steering me onto smooth pavement. It read: B.C.’s Adult Mental Health Division of the Ministry of Health Family Support & Involvement Best Practices.
Trauma Informed Practice
My first stopover was St. Louis, Missouri, for a 2002 best practices National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Family Peer Support Group Facilitator training event. Here I learned family members go through normal, predictable emotional responses to the trauma of mental illness, and the best way to provide effective support is to give families what they need when they need it – simple, but not always easy.
Next, I travelled a long service road from 2005 to 2010 at the University of Northern B.C. studying the effectiveness of interventions for families affected by mental illness. Research revealed family members needed the opportunity to work through their thoughts and emotional reactions. They can do this through guidance dialogues with experienced, knowledgeable and competent Family Peer Supporters. These are family members who have walked a mile in well-worn shoes on a bumpy road, and who can share their personal experience and offer guidance.
Research revealed family members needed the opportunity to work through their thoughts and emotional reactions. They can do this through guidance dialogues with experienced, knowledgeable and competent Family Peer Supporters.
Peer Support Certification
In 2010, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) identified the opportunity to transform the mental health system through the integration and promotion of Family Peer Support. Peer Support Canada (PSC) was created to carry on the work started by the MHCC, promoting the growth, recognition, and accessibility of family peer support. At FAMILIES of BCSS, we began travelling this new road in 2014 to become the only team of PSC Certified Family Peer Supporters [Mentors] in Canada demonstrating national standards of practice for experience, knowledge and competencies.
FAMILIES Peer Support Specialists
FAMILIES of BCSS has drawn its own map for Family Peer Support training showcased in the 2020 MHCC Engaging [Family] Caregivers in Mental Health & Addictions in Canada: Promising Practices Guide. Our program is a template developed over two decades potentially for use by the rest of Canada, and the only example of one engaging family caregivers throughout their entire journey of adaptation to the trauma of mental illness. With safe and effective peer support, families can successfully move into action and advocacy and come full circle in supporting other family members who follow.