The CARES Toolkit — the Essential Peer Support Skills Training Program

The struggle is real…

Being a peer supporter is a tough role to navigate alone. The system is based on clinical principles and hasn’t completely caught up to the need for people like us who have lived recovery and know what it takes to get well.

Peer Supporters provide a unique service and point of view that has been previously missing in the clinical environment. We have lived through the treatment experience and are in active recovery. We know what our clients are going through in a way that clinical experts cannot. Unfortunately, many of us are working in isolation and may not have received comprehensive training in all the skills required to successfully manage the many unique situations we face.

Because we are on the front lines supporting our peers, it is essential that we have a proven set of skills and techniques we can rely on to help our clients succeed.

Why It Works

The CARES toolkit was created by two Washintgon state Certified Peer Counselors who also happen to be expert trainers specializing in Peer Support basic and on-going education.  The toolkit relies heavily on studies of peer support services conducted by the University of Washington .

The 5 Categories of Peer Support Work

Five general categories were identified in the studies and we worked with specialists in these areas to create twelve training modules that fit into these 5 categories essential to every Peer Supporter. They include:

  1. Communication Skills
  2. Advocacy Skills
  3. Recovery & Resiliency Skills
  4. Empowerment Skills
  5. Skills Specific To Working In A Professional Environment


The CARES Toolkit Modules

Inside each module are 1-hour training sessions complete with supporting resources and materials. The specific topics include:

  • Advocacy For Peers You Support
  • Strengths Based Peer Support
  • Ethics & Boundaries
  • Group Facilitation
  • Culturally Informed Peer Support
  • Relationship Building
  • Suicide Safe Peer Support
  • Advocating For Yourself At Work
  • Documentation
  • Wellness & Balance For You & The Peers You Support
  • Trauma Informed Peer Support
  • Telling Your Story

See full details on each of the training modules and see the bios of the trainers

Course Details

Each of the 12 modules covers the hard and soft skills training specific to recovery coaching and support. They include:

  • A purpose statement as to why the skill is essential to the Peer/Coach relationship
  • An overview of terms to deepen your understanding and insure clear communication
  •  A 60-minute training video with a subject matter expert who has tested these techniques in the field with specific information on:
    • How this topic plays a role in relapse prevention
    • How to use an approach that is accessible and works with existing substance use disorder and mental health issues
    • Including a Youth and Youth in Transition perspective  when possible
    • Use of culturally and linguistically inclusive language
  • Tools to transmit the information to the peer you are supporting or coaching
  • Exercises for skill-building practice
  • Quick tips
  • Relevant literature or apps for further learning


The CARES Toolkit

Includes online recordings of all workshops from the December session of the You Are Not Alone Conference.

Advocating for Others, With Attention to Young People

Speaker: Michaela I. Fissel   This webinar will provide a basic overview of what it means to engage in advocacy when delivering peer services, approaches that enhance confidence, self-efficacy, and personal agency; along with self-care strategies to...

Strengths Based Peer Support

Speaker: Garry Lewis Substance use and mental illness rob us of our belief in our own strengths. Peers help us realize we still carry those strengths in us. This work shop is about how supporting from a strengths-based perspective fosters wellness and recovery for mental health and substance use.

Ethics and Boundaries for Peer Specialists

Speaker:  Beth Gould Experience a solid overview of Ethics and Boundaries for Peer Specialists using real scenarios. This lively workshop was created using the ethical guidelines created by the International Association of Peer Supporters (iNaps), which...

Core Group Skills for Facilitators

Speaker: Sharon Holmes Have you ever been tasked with running groups without much training on how to begin? This workshop will take you through the basic steps for setting up and successfully running groups that foster recovery.

Culturally Informed Peer Support

Speaker: Julianne Gale As peer counselors, we can be strong advocates for culturally specific recovery. This workshop will explore some ways to draw upon cultural strengths, increase cross-cultural understanding, and move towards healing justice in order...

Building Ethical Relationships in the Behavioral Health Field

Speaker:  Stephanie LaneThis workshop caters to certified peer counselors in rural areas. Come learn how to effectively begin, nurture, and end a peer relationship(s). Learn how to integrate into a clinical team in a non-clinical manner in order to prove...

Suicide Safer Peer Support

Speaker: Mary Jadwisiak The peers we work with are at increased risk of suicide. This workshop will provide you with the skills you need to identify when a person may be at risk of suicide and how to respond.

Advocating for Yourself at Work

Speaker:  Maggie Taylor  Self-advocacy is vital to this relatively new field; providers within the clinical setting may struggle to incorporate peers in a meaningful way. It is the responsibility of the RSS to educate and raise awareness, as to not only...


Speaker: Ann Rider The guidelines are specific to Medicaid-funded programs and are still applicable to any kind of documentation. In addition to a discussion of Medicaid guidelines, we will present a simple format that works well for peer support in any setting. Bring your questions!

Trauma Informed Peer Support

Speaker: Leah Harris Healing from trauma happens in relationship: we know this from both neuroscience and from lived experience. And it’s why peer support is at the center of any trauma-informed program or approach. But what does it mean to provide “trauma-informed” peer support?

Work Life Balance and Wellness

Speaker:  Mia CoxAs a parent partner in community mental health, being a working professional and single mom, I have learned the importance of having tools to create appropriate work/life balance and maintaining wellness. In this brief introduction to Work...

Telling Your Story

Speaker: Lorrin Gehring Your story of recovery is what gives you authority. Knowing how and when to disclose your story is a big part of the effectiveness of your work as a peer. This workshop will help you sort out the power of telling your story.

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