A Systematic Review of the Roles and Contributions of Peer Providers in the Behavioral Health Workforce


      Peer providers with lived experiences of mental health and substance use are a growing component of the workforce responsible for the prevention and treatment of behavioral health disorders. This systematic literature review aims to better define the roles of peers and their unique contributions to behavioral health care.

      Evidence acquisition

      Researchers searched MEDLINE, CINAHL Complete, PsycINFO, Cochrane Central, and Scopus databases for studies published between January 1, 2013 and April 3, 2020. Studies were included if they (1) were experimental or observational studies, (2) included an adult population of people with a behavioral health disorder, and (3) used paid peer providers in addition to traditional behavioral health services. Researchers extracted sample demographics, intervention characteristics, outcome data, and significant associations from studies that met inclusion criteria and assessed the trends in these data in May 2020.

      Evidence synthesis

      A total of 23 articles assessing peer-provided services were included. Peers were employed most frequently in mental healthcare roles in the Department of Veterans Affairs, hospital, and community health facilities. A total of 14 studies observed significant clinical improvements in participants’ social functioning, quality of life, patient activation, and behavioral health. A majority of studies involved the supervision of peers and required peers to have completed training in service delivery.


      Peers are effective providers of behavioral health treatment and relapse prevention services who encourage recovery through resilience building, empowerment, and self-advocacy. There remains a need for more evidence-based interventions on the efficacy of peers in substance use disorder treatment and the impact of formalized certification and training opportunities.
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