Supportive services at Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing (SPH) now include peer support – an opportunity for residents to get mental health recovery assistance from someone with lived, firsthand experience herself.
Marissa Brooks, a Peer Support Specialist at Therapeutic Health Services (THS), passionately and devotedly fills this role. She also wears “a few different hats,” including helping individuals develop job search skills and access available services. The sole vocational specialist at THS, Marissa also trains others to become peer supporters themselves.
Every Monday from 1 – 4 pm, Marissa is exclusively available to SPH residents. She offers an overview of the services she is able to provide and identifies the unique nature of each individual’s mental health experience to provide them with the best-suited support.
“I believe in recovery because I am recovery.” -Marissa Brooks, THS Peer Supporter
Residents seek assistance voluntarily, and after a brief screening, Marissa connects some with a licensed mental health therapist for ongoing care yet still plays a supportive role. For others, “It doesn’t have to be mental health services. If they just want peer guidance, someone to check in with, support in finding a job,” Marissa is there for them.
The power of shared experience
As someone in ongoing recovery from a mental health disorder, Marissa says her experiences connect her with people seeking help. “I show them that recovery is possible. I’ve been in the mental health community for over 25 years now, and I want people to empower their own decision towards their recovery.”
“There is something amazing about shared experience. I show people that you are not your diagnosis, that it doesn’t define you.” ~Marissa Brooks
Marissa’s relationship with a peer at the beginning of her recovery changed the course of her personal and professional life. She learns from Seattle’s larger peer community, too. “I borrow things that I’ve seen from peers that I’ve worked with throughout the years,” she says.
For many experiencing mental health crises in the midst of other compounding adversities, recovery may not seem possible. The role of a peer supporter is to transform this mindset through discourse on shared experience. Showing people that recovery is possible is most rewarding for Marissa. “I believe in recovery because I am recovery,” she says.
Marissa is not a licensed mental health therapist, and her role is inherently different from one. She employs the same transparency everywhere she offers her services, and her aim is to “support, not solve.” With this in mind, she offers an essential addition to existing support services for SPH residents.
Unlike other mental health services, the professional work of peer support is informed by the personal. “There is something amazing about shared experience,” she notes. “I show people that you are not your diagnosis, that it doesn’t define you.”
Advocating for broader peer support diversity
While shared connection can build trust, Marissa reflects on her identity – a white woman – as evidence of a lack of representation in recovery services. “In the beginning, some people are uncomfortable working with me, because they don’t think I can understand their point of view, and they are absolutely right.”
As the only peer at THS, Marissa champions the cause to obtain greater representation in peer support, proposing that administration hire peers from a broader community to make a more effective impact. Her THS supervisor agrees, and she is excited about the possibility to help expand the program.
Celebrating small victories
Marissa feels rewarded by seemingly small successes, such as “when someone comes and tells me they have a job, or that they are applying the coping skills they learned in one of my groups.” She celebrates these small victories and doesn’t want to minimize their significance.
Though the peer support service is relatively new to SPH, Marissa says she’s “there for the long haul. We are still gaining traction, and I want to reach out to as many people who are looking for support.” She hopes to bring more peers into the program, not only to SPH but to every THS branch, so peers can be more accessible to those in need.
It is easy to overlook the power of shared experience in one’s journey to reaching solid ground. Peers like Marissa remind us of this reality – and in response, their work enhances the network of services that organizations like Solid Ground can provide to set individuals on their unique paths to recovery and resiliency.