Steps to becoming a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist

A Peer Recovery Specialist (PRS) is a trained individual who has lived experience with mental illness and/or addiction to alcohol and or other drugs who provides one-to-one strengths -based support to peers in recovery. PRS work in a wide range of settings including community health and mental health centers, behavioral health programs, substance use treatment facilities, peer-run organizations, community -based organizations, emergency rooms, courts, homeless shelters and outreach programs. Sometimes Peer Recovery Specialists are referred to as Peer Support Specialists.” (Iowa Board of Certification)

Why a Certified Peer? Certification provides public protection and quality care. It requires a demonstration of competence and proves that the Peer is well trained, educated, and skilled in providing appropriate services. International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) certified peers are bound by a code of ethics which includes a formal sanctioning process if questions of ethics arise.

To become a certified Peer Recovery Specialist in Iowa you must have a high school diploma or GED, and physically live and/or work in Iowa at least 51% of the time at the time of application. Then you must take a 40 hour training provided by The Peer Workforce Collaborative from The University of Iowa, Georgia Model Training, Life Connections, or other equivalent model approved by the state. You must also have 6 hours of ethics. The 40 hour training consist of 10 hours in Advocacy, 10 hours in Mentoring/Education, 10 hours Ethical Responsibility, and 10 hours Recovery Support/Wellness. After you complete the training, you have one week to take a test and score 80% or higher.

Once you pass this test you must complete a minimum of 500 hours of work/practicum/volunteer experience specific to the domains of the training verified by a supervisor. Of these, 25 hours must be with direct supervision provided by an organizations documented and qualified supervisory staff.

At this point, you fill out the application with The Iowa Board of Certification (IBC) and mail it with a non-refundable fee. Once the IBC receives and approves your application and fee, you have 1 year to take and pass the IC&RC Peer Recovery exam. If you don’t pass, you may set up a time to take the test again but each time you take the test you must pay the fee. The test is computerized so you unofficially find out if you passed on the day you take the test. You will receive your official notification in the mail and if you pass you will get a certificate. Then you are officially a PRS.

After you are certified, you must take 20 hours (approved) Continuing Education Units (CEU’s) every 2 years and pay a fee to be re-certified. Of these 20 hours, 6 must be in ethics.

So becoming a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist does take time, training, and continued education. It is challenging, but very rewarding. It’s not just one person training you on the job. If you are in recovery with a mental illness or addiction and want to help others, think about becoming a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist. There is a huge need, and overall, it doesn’t take too long to become certified and it will change your life.


Becky Brown and Deb Williams are the co-founders of Together We Can, a mental health peer support nonprofit based in Marshalltown.


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