Trends in Behavioral Healthcare: Join the Conversation
The Danya Institute is pleased to present this regular series of original articles on trends in the field of behavioral healthcare. Our latest article is by special guest author Laysha Ostrow, M.P.P.
Group for graduate students in recovery provides opportunities for peer support and collaboration by Laysha Ostrow
Many people with lived experience of mental health or substance use recovery (collectively referred to as peers here) choose to give back to the community of people in recovery. This may be in roles as advocates, peer support providers, clinicians, government officials, or researchers. For many of these positions, a graduate degree is required – particularly researchers, who may have to travel all the way to a doctoral degree.
Graduate school is a difficult endeavor for anyone who chooses to go that path, but peers face distinct challenges in higher education settings. In addition, peer graduate students face different challenges than those faced by peers who have finished their education and are in the field. Peer graduate students often struggle to get accommodations (and are without parents to advocate for them the way that they can for undergraduate youth). Peer graduate students fear accusations of being biased in our research endeavors or clinical practice, and, as we are just beginning our careers, it is hard to prove otherwise. We often have to sit through classes and seminars where people use language about addictions or mental disorders that we find demeaning, but that is still commonly used in academia. Many face stigma from other students, but most concerning is the stigma from the institutions themselves. As a person struggling in my recovery during college, I was encouraged by the school to leave the university. Some peers still face this kind of stigma as graduate students.
There can also be advantages to being a peer and a graduate student. There are special funding opportunities for students with disabilities. Our lived experience (if we choose to share it) brings unique perspectives to the discussions in classes and seminars. The same experience of being a person in recovery that may make others question our bias also affords us the ability to frame research questions and interpret results in ways that those who have not had those experiences cannot. Having that advantage so early sets the stage for our career trajectories.
The Peer Graduate Students Support and Collaboration group was started as a forum for us to provide peer support to one another through our unique challenges, and to share knowledge about opportunities. I was fortunate that another graduate student reached out to me for support and advice, and inspired me to start this group. It has allowed me to re-examine some of my own challenges and achievements. I hope the group brings the same kind of awareness to others, and provides a safe place to seek and provide peer support.
Master’s, doctoral, and post-doctoral students with behavioral health or other disabilities are welcome to join. The group functions through a Google-groups email list currently. In the future we might incorporate blogs, discussion boards, or chat rooms. The web-based nature of the group allows us to reach students across the country – perhaps even across the world. We have found that experiences vary widely from school to school, program to program, so reaching a broad group of people is very valuable.
You may read more about the Peer Graduate Students Support and Collaboration group at the Peer Support Research Initiative website (and click on “Graduate Students.” )