Lived Experience

Certified Peer Specialists and the Power of Peer Support

If you are an individual who is in recovery and has a passion for supporting others then we want to hear from you!

To learn more about lived experience and the different types of Certified Peer Specialists, see below. 

What is Lived Experience?

  • Lived Experience refers to an individual’s personal experience with mental health and/or substance misuse challenges.
  • A person with lived experience has faced obstacles and emotional challenges within him or herself and/or his or her family.
  • An individual with lived experience can pull from the knowledge he or she has learned from their own behavioral health journey and leverage that knowledge to support others who may be going through a similar challenge.

What is a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS)?

  • A CPS uses their lived experience to work with individuals who are currently facing a behavioral health (i.e., mental health and/or substance misuse) challenge. The purpose of this connection is for the CPS to offer support, hope, guidance, etc. to the individual they are serving.
  • Someone who is trained and certified to offer support and guidance by using their personal lived experience.
  • A strengths focused and evidence based approach to supporting youth and families.

What is a Certified Peer Specialist Parent (CPS-P)?

  • A CPS-P is a parent or legal guardian (in a permanent relationship for at least 3 years) of a child who is living with a behavioral health (i.e., mental health and/or substance misuse) diagnosis, who provides support to other parents who are raising a child with similar behavioral health conditions. 
  • A CPS-P works with individuals and their family. This includes offering support, hope, encouragement, and love.
  • A CPS-P helps a family feel empowered to have a better future, while empowering themselves through their own lived experience. 
  • A CPS-P uses shared experiences as a way to provide hope and strength through listening and showing support. 

What is a Certified Peer Specialist Youth (CPS-Y)?

  • A CPS-Y is a young adult between the ages of 18 – 26 with lived experience (i.e., has experience living with a mental health and/or substance misuse challenge).
  • A CPS-Y has previously received services for their behavioral health condition(s) and self-identifies as a person living with a behavioral health challenge.
  • A CPS-Y uses their lived experience to support other youth and young adults who are living with similar behavioral health challenges.
  • A CPS-Y works from their personal perspective of their lived experience.

Lived experience is your firsthand knowledge and experience of living with a mental health, substance misuse, or co-occurring diagnosis. It is your journey to living a life of hope in spite of challenges and your willingness to share that hope with others.

IC3 – A Specialty Service

The Intensive Customized Care Coordination, (IC3) Program provides alternatives to treatment provided in a hospital also known as a Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF). Children and youth ages four through 17 and youth or young adults ages 18 through 21 with serious emotional and behavioral disturbances who have a primary diagnosis of mental illness and who are placed, or at risk of placement, in a hospital or PRTF are served by the program as close to their natural home settings as possible. IC3 has a goal of reducing the length of stay in out of home placements and increasing the number of youth receiving community-based services transitioned or diverted from these facilities. In implementing IC3, Georgia utilizes a System of Care approach that targets youth served by multiple agencies, striving to coordinate, blend, and braid programs and funding to create a comprehensive Behavioral Health system that ensures youth and family receive the same high-level services at home and in their community. The state’s entire System of Care relative to youth is being transformed to ensure evidence-based practices, as well as an array of quality services and supports are available, integrated, and supported throughout Georgia. Customized Care Coordination, IC3 supports this transformation.

How do I become a
CPS, CPS-P, or a CPS-Y?

  • Be willing to identify as someone living with a mental health condition and willing to use their story to support others.
  • Have a high school diploma or GED.
  • Be in recovery for a minimum of one year.
  • Have strong reading, understanding, and written communication skills.
  • Attend CPS certification training and pass a certification test at the end of the course.

For more information on how to apply to be a CPS and when training opportunities are available, please contact Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network (GMHCN) at

  • Be a parent or a legal guardian of a child who has a behavioral health condition (i.e., mental illness, substance misuse, and/or co-occurring diagnosis) for at least 3 years.
  • Have had or is experienced with navigating and accessing public health and child serving systems.
  • Be willing to grow through empowerment with your own lived experience and use the knowledge learned to use your story to help others.
  • Provide 2 letters of reference.
  • Attend a CPS-P certification course and pass a certification test at end of the course.

For more information on how to apply to be a CPS-P and when training opportunities are available, please contact Lisa Pace at

  • Be between 18-26 years of age (valid Georgia ID); and
  • Have a mental health (MH) condition, substance use disorder (SUD), or a co-occurring diagnosis; and a strong desire to identify themselves as a person living with a mental illness or substance use diagnosis; and
  • Be able/willing to actively seek and manage your own appropriate care; and
  • Be able to share their own personal story in a safe and appropriate way; and
  • Must be well grounded in recovery wellness; and
  • One year between diagnosis and application to training; and/or
  • If the individual has a substance use condition, there must be one year continuous abstinence from substance use; and
  • Have a high school diploma or GED; provide a copy of these documents; and
  • Provide (2) letters of reference This cannot be a family member (please include contact information).

For more information on how to apply to be a CPS-Y and when training opportunities are available, please contact Lisa Pace at

Peer Support Groups

For parents, caregivers, and young adults, support groups are an important part of the treatment process. Speaking with and listening to others who are on a similar journey can lead to encouragement, empowerment, and positivity.

To find out more about the different types of support groups available in your community, please contact Lisa Pace of Georgia Parent Support Network at

Support Groups for those with Lived Experience:
  • Federation of Families (FOF) Chapters are chapters established by families for families with the goal of creating a close-knit community that comes together to offer support, encouragement, education, and guidance to one another. 
  • Each FOF Chapter has their own unique mission that is specific to the needs of their community. 
  • FOF Chapters offer families the opportunity to get involved at local, state, and national meetings. Through these meetings families can share their thoughts regarding policies, behavioral health services offered, and support for children with mental health needs and their families.
  • FOF Chapters have a core goal of working with families and other organizations to transform mental health care throughout the state and the country. 
  • FOF Chapters began in  1989 by a group of 18 people who wanted to make a difference. 
  • Georgia Parent Support Network is the State FOF Chapter.

For information on joining a chapter or starting a chapter, please contact Anita Speed of Georgia Parent Support Network (GPSN) at

  • Youth MOVE stands for Youth Motivating Others though Voices of Experience.
  • Each Youth MOVE Chapter, while supported by adults, is run by young adults.
  • Similar to Federation of Families Chapters, Youth Move consists of local chapters throughout the state working together to improve behavioral health challenges facing youth and young adults.   
  • Youth MOVE Chapters are predicated on young people supporting other youth people in whatever way(s) are appropriate.  
  • Youth MOVE Georgia, which operates out of Georgia Parent Support Network, is equipped to support both new and current chapters. 

For information on starting chapter or joining a chapter, please contact Sheena Biggerstaff of Georgia Parent Support Network at

Youth Leadership Academy: Mask Campaign

The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) Youth Leadership Academy recently launched “The Mask Campaign”. The goal is to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and substance use challenges and services. 

Anthony Catlin is a Certified Peer Specialist Youth with DBHDD. He explains the purpose of the campaign as being “designed to instill hope that there is life after diagnosis… and to encourage children and young adults to seek the help they need”.

Play Video