Certified Peer Specialists


In July 1999, Georgia was the first state to request and receive Medicaid reimbursement for Peer Support as a statewide mental health Rehabilitation Option service.  The Georgia Medicaid and Mental Health authorities partnered together to submit a design and plan for Medicaid reimbursement for Peer Support and launched a recovery movement which has grown exponentially.  Since that time, Peer Support as a formalized behavioral health intervention has expanded to almost every state and territory in the U.S. and to many other countries.

At the heart of Peer Support is lived experience.  Certified Peer Specialists (CPSs) in Georgia provide interventions which promote socialization, recovery, wellness, self-advocacy, development of natural supports, and maintenance of community living skills. Activities are provided between and among individuals who have common issues and needs, are individual motivated, initiated and/or managed, and assist individuals in living as independently as possible.

In 2019, Georgia celebrated 20 years of Peer Support leadership and practice.  In that celebratory year, the state celebrated that there were approximately 3000 CPS trained and certified, well over $20M in Peer Support services provided annually, and specialty CPS certifications for Substance Use, Youth, Parent, Whole Health, and Forensic lived experience.

What is a Certified Peer Specialist?

A Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) is an individual who is trained and certified to provide ongoing support to individuals and their families receiving mental health and/or substance use recovery supports and services. CPSs work from the perspective of their lived experience to help build environments conducive to recovery. They promote hope, personal responsibility, empowerment, education, and self-determination in the communities where they serve.  CPSs are trained to assist others in skill-building, problem-solving, setting up and maintaining self-help mutual support groups, and building self-directed recovery tools. A critical role of the CPS is willingness to self-identify their lived experience, using it as a tool for helping others in developing recovery goals and specific steps to reach those goals.

Types of Certified Peer Specialist

  • Certified Peer Specialist - Mental Health (CPS-MH): An individual certified by DBHDD who has lived experience with a mental health condition and is practicing recovery as related to that condition.
  • Certified Peer Specialist - Addictive Disease (CPS-AD): An individual certified by DBHDD who has lived experience with addiction and is practicing recovery as related to that condition.
    • For more information on application and training please visit: Georgia Council on Substance Abuse https://gasubstanceabuse.org/
      • Other ancillary peer credentials may be added to one of these base credentials, such as Whole Health and Wellness Coach (WHWC), Forensic Peer Mentors; however, none of these ancillary credentials suffice on its own as constituting a CPS designation by DBHDD in the absence of the Certified Peer Specialist types listed above.
      • While other peer credentials may be offered or recognized by national entities, they do not necessarily represent the construct of the DBHDD CPS certification process and, therefore, are not considered as equivalents nor deeming for the DBHDD CPS credential.
  • Certified Peer Specialist - Youth (CPS-Y): A young adult between the ages of 18 and 30 certified by DBHDD who has lived experience of either a mental health condition and/or substance use disorder as a youth and is practicing recovery as related to that condition. ( Download this pdf file. FAQs )
  • Certified Peer Specialist - Parent (CPS-P): A parent or legal guardian (in a permanent relationship for at least three (3) years) certified by DBHDD who has the lived experience of raising a young person with either a mental health condition and/or substance use disorder and has supported that young person in an experience of recovery. ( Download this pdf file. FAQs )

For more information about becoming a Certified Peer Specialist, contact [email protected].

Informal Peer and Family Support in the Community


Supporting the “Lived Experience” through Leadership, Advocacy and Grass Roots Initiatives

The knowledge and wisdom gained from being diagnosed and living with a behavioral health challenge and/or an intellectual or developmental disability (I/DD) is valuable. That personal experience is distinct from and complementary to the knowledge and wisdom gained from education and clinical practice. Therefore, it is important to build upon the lived experiences that individuals perceive as influential to their identity and life goals. 

Delivery of high-quality services, that support individuals and families in leading meaningful lives, requires an appreciation for and integrated use of both types of knowledge. It is important in-service delivery when engaging with individuals and families that we:

  • Seek and reflect on the strengths they have developed and challenges they have experienced in life as well as while engaging with the service system.
  • Incorporate individuals and families served, as well as other identified supports, into services and service system quality assurance, quality improvement, and strategic planning processes.

Integrate the wisdom and voices of lived experience in the form of peer support and self-advocacy. The lived experiences of peer specialists and supporters, and the hope that they inspire and model through their example and mentorship, enhances the ability and willingness of individuals to communicate about and engage in their own wellness. Services are informed by the wisdom of lived experience:

  • RESPECT Institute - This training is designed to give individuals with lived experience the skills and coaching necessary to transform their stories and recovery experiences into educational and inspirational presentations.  The RESPECT Institute helps participants organize, construct, and customize their personal stories so they can be delivered in diverse venues, like legislative meetings, employee orientations, university classrooms, civic meetings, and continuing education programs.
  • Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network (GMHCN) - The Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network believes in the ability of everyone living with mental health concerns to enjoy lives of purpose, meaning, productivity, and wellness. Since it was founded in 1991, this grassroots nonprofit organization has been led and run by mental health peers—people in mental health recovery. GMHCN has evolved into a statewide organization of over 100 employees engaged in advocacy, education, training, and peer support services for the people of Georgia. GMHCN is recognized as a national leader in the peer support movement. At its core, the basis of peer support—one person using their lived experience to support another—is not new; in fact, it is the basis of human growth and development. Mental health peers with special training are now able to use their lived recovery experience in clinical settings to provide something beyond a diagnosis or medication.
  • Georgia Peer Support Institute (GPSI) - This training teaches participants the skills on how to take an active role in their own services; the principles of recovery; the characteristic of peer run, peer directed support and how to get the most from BH services.
  • Georgia Council on Substance Abuse (GCSA) - The mission of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse is to increase the impact of recovery in our communities through education, advocacy, training and peer recovery support services.
  • Recovery Oriented Systems of Care (ROSC) - Helping providers transform recovery principles to practice.
  • Recovery Messaging - Using language as a tool to address stigma, advocate for individuals living with BH challenges and to educate family, friends, community
  • Youth leadership Academy - promotes the development of youth and young adult leaders and advocates through creating a learning environment designed to cultivate authentic youth voice and inclusion.


DBHDD Recovery Policy - Recovery, Wellness & Independence, 15-150

The DBHDD, Recovery, Wellness & Independence policy came directly from Commissioner, Judy Fitzgerald, and it holds the highest importance for our Department, our providers, and the people we serve.

This policy is implemented statewide and provides guidance to staff and community service providers and includes,

  • DBHDD’s Adopted Definitions, Values, and Principles of Recovery, Resilience, Independence and Wellness,
  • Support to “Lived Experience”, Peers and Peer Support, Recovery Oriented Services.

DBHDD Policy on Training and Certification of Peer Specialists, 01-123

This policy was created by the director of the Division of Behavioral Health, Monica Johnson, to assert the role of DBHDD as the sole certification body for Certified Peer Specialists in Georgia (in accordance with federal CMS SMDL #07-011). DBHDD only offers certification to individuals completing training and testing as provided by DBHDD and the certification training body named below. No other certification training bodies, outside of the one listed in the policy, are recognized by DBHDD.

Service Definition & Reimbursement Information: Information regarding the Peer Support Service - Individual and Peer Support Service – Group, service definitions, billable codes, and rates can be found in the Behavioral Health Provider Manual