C4 Innovations

Supervising Peer Support Workers & Recovery Coaches

An episode of “Changing the Conversation” podcast

Daisy Hernandez shares strategies for supervising peer support workers and recovery coaches by meeting people where they are with host Steven Samra.

September 5, 2022


Steven Samra, Host (00:05): Hello, and welcome to Changing the Conversation. I’m your host, Steven Samara, and I’m a senior associate with C4 Innovations. Our topic today is supervising peers in the recovery space, and my guest today is Daisy Hernandez, calling in from Western Massachusetts. Daisy is a licensed clinical social worker with a background in peer work and has been actually doing this work within community mental health for the last 10 years. Daisy is also a person with lived experience. She’s a peer workforce development trainer, and she’s a trainer for Praxis with C4 Innovations. Daisy, hello and thank you for joining us today.

Daisy Hernandez, Guest (00:48): Thanks for having me, Steven. I’m super excited to be here.

Steven (00:50): In your experience as a supervisor and a supervisee, with 10 years of community mental health under your belt, so to speak, what have you experienced as both effective and ineffective supervision?

Daisy (01:08): Early on, starting as a fee-for-service peer recovery coach, wanting to help people was a natural, and I believe not just mines, but a lot of people with lived experience. I do feel that in my early career as a supervisor, and even as a clinician, I dropped a lot of balls and probably messed some things up or even affected, maybe even triggered some people that I was working with. But that also speaks to my responsibility as a professional to continue to develop myself, right, and take advantage of resources within the organizations I’ve worked in and even educationally and continue on with my degrees and developing professionally. And it’s not until I experienced these negative or uncomfortable experiences with my supervisor that I’m forced to reflect on how I am presenting for other people, and that’s allowed me a new lens in how I supervise and how even I ask for support from my supervisor, if that makes sense.

Steven (02:16): It absolutely makes sense. Daisy, that’s really interesting. For me, I understand you’ve got this really unique way of bringing a harm reduction lens to the peer supervision that you’re doing. Can you say a little bit more about that?

Daisy (02:33): Let me first say that I am extremely proud of the harm reduction work done in Massachusetts focused on the population who misuses substances. Right? But the principles of harm reduction can easily be applied on all aspects of life. As a peer recovery coach, I have the foresight and understanding that my supervisee brings a whole tale of lived experiences that are both positive and negative. When we think about harm reduction principles and how they are applied in a supervisee/supervisor relationship in terms of peers and having that understanding that they have that lived experience, good or bad, that they bring with them in their role, it’s important for us to apply these principles of reducing harm, right, and meeting people where they are at.

Daisy (03:28): All our peer recovery coaches are at different levels in their recovery, in their ability to retain information, in their ability to work with technology, in their ability to engage with people, in their ability to hold boundaries. And we have to show up for each supervisee differently because of those needs and their experiences. And so when we apply principles of harm reduction, like meet people where they’re at, right, we’re meeting each recovery coach where they’re at, because they are all at different spaces, right?

Daisy (03:58): It focuses on reducing harm. When we apply it in the peer supervision role, we help minimize, right, we have that awareness to help reduce the harm of secondary trauma, vicarious trauma, burnout, and all these other things that put our peers at risk for harming a participant for relapse, potential relapse for ineffectively holding boundaries. And we only do that when we apply the different principles of harm reduction to our supervising role because of that high risk of potential secondary trauma and burnout that they can experience from working with people who are probably and sometimes dealing with the same thing they themselves have overcome, or have not, because they might have moved on with life, but haven’t really worked it or processed it. And that can really unleash a whole Pandora box of re-traumatization and challenges in performing the role they’re hired for.

Daisy (05:12): There was an article not too long ago on Fox 5 that share 57% of people quit supervisors or managers and not the organizations or company they work for. And so that, to me, it speaks to how can we apply these principles because there’s many principles, right? When we talk about creating a menu of practical options to minimize risk, how are we as supervisors providing these menus for our supervisees and reducing the risk of all those other traumas that could affect or activate some of their own traumas, whether they work them or not? And we can only do that by providing different opportunities, using that harm reduction lens for our recovery coaches to have the ability to balance work and self-care.

Daisy (06:00): We talk about self-care often. I mean, I got to admit, I was one of those people at onboarding meetings or trainings where they talked about self-care, and I would roll my eyes because I knew that we talk about it, we could define it, but how are we making it work? I can’t see it in action amongst work environments that I was in. So are we creating the conditions? Are we making sure that the caseloads are not high SMIs, high severe needs? And that my coach has the ability to show up for supervising sessions for group trainings, group supervision trainings for continued development, and does he have the ability to sit for a 20-minute lunch outside of his car, outside of the office? Right? Are we setting those conditions or providing these menus of opportunities for them to really care for themselves and fill their cup to then go and be able to fill the role to the best of their ability?

Steven (06:58): Daisy, that was fantastic, and thank you for that. Was there any resource or resources that you stumbled across or even developed that sort of lay out what you’ve just shared? How do you do harm reduction supervision?

Daisy (07:21): So harm reduction supervision in action, right? When we come into recovery, and we figure it out, we want to help others to figure it out. As a recovery coach supervisor, I pulled in some people that I knew in recovery and the networks into recovery coach roles, because I was recovering supervisor, and I was trying to expand my team. People that I know from my recovery network, and I knew some of their stories and their journeys. And I was really self-aware because I had just left an experience of a supervisor that was extremely uncomfortable, and I felt like I was on my own and just thrown in there to figure it out on my own and Google any recommendations, right?

Daisy (08:02): But once I was able to leave that role and become a recovery coach supervisor, and I’m bringing in people, and I’m knowing firsthand from being in the same recovery networks that I am, you can’t talk to them a certain way. One had a mom who was really verbally and mentally and psychologically abusive. So the tone in which I talked to her, I purposely made softer, and we led our supervision on a mindfulness video just to make sure that she was calm because I knew that she struggled with the high anxiety. So we have to approach all the peers differently. And by knowing that and being intentional in those supervising relationships, we really have to…

Daisy (08:48): When we say meet people where they’re at, that’s one of the top principles of harm reduction. We’re knowledgeable and aware of what our supervisees needs are, where they’re at in their career development, what they want to achieve and how I can help them get there, what conditions am I setting for them in terms of their caseload, the resources they would need, their technology and their knowledge of technology.

Daisy (09:13): Cheat sheets, something as simple as cheat sheets was one thing that I considered as my menu of options, because I knew that not all my recovery coaches were at the same level or practicing the same pathway. I mean, I had recovery coaches that struggled with abstinence based, and the harm reduction principles was what allowed me to help him understand the value of MAT. And so utilizing the different principles in my engagement in terms of creating the opportunities, celebrating things like, oh, I recommended a peer to get a computer training or typing training at MassHire, and he went and did that.

Daisy (10:00): So we celebrated. We make sure all his coworkers know, we celebrate things like recovery status or participants that they’ve been coaching, who have now obtained two years and three years of recovery, right? Celebrating those different things and being compassionate and non-judgmental as we would be when engaging with our clients. Why can’t we engage what our supervisees the same way? We lose sight that the person fulfilling this productivity requirement is a human being, and what the demands or whatever it is, we lose sight of that. And we have to purposely create the conditions and create these menu of opportunities for our peers to flourish in their role and sustain their recovery because that’s the only way they’ll be able to fulfill the role to the way it was intended and help the most people they could, and doing no harm too, right?

Steven (11:01): Daisy, that’s amazing. And basically, what I’m hearing you say is we’ve got to bring peer support to peer support supervision. For me, I understand that because I too was one of those folks who looked at self-care like, “Are you kidding? I’ll have time for self-care when I’m dead. There’s people dying. There’s people struggling out there.” What I learned from that was that usually when I had that attitude, at about three o’clock every day, I just ran out of compassion. And it affected how I performed, and it also impacted my work-life balance. And when I listen to what you’re saying around peer supervision and meeting people where they’re at, it feels critical that we not just give it lip service that as a supervisor, I think it’s part of our role to ensure that folks are paying attention to that work-life balance because of the rate of burnout, compassion fatigue, the vicarious trauma we experience, all of the things, not to mention the trauma we carry from our own histories. So could you say a little bit about your own journey around work-life balance and how that now translates into the supervision you provide?

Daisy (12:32): Work-life balance, that’s interesting. I think that with remote working, we’ve kind of adapted into a work-life integration. You know, SAMHSA has certain dimensions of self-care. Researchers identify another group of different dimensions of self-care, and I think that self-care could be defined differently for everybody based on what they do.

Daisy (12:55): And so working remotely… And I’m still doing a lot of my own self-work. That’s the only way I sustain my recovery. And I’m forced to do things intentionally and purposeful. Right? I run on schedule. The way my brain is set up and the way my past experiences have really set my view of life and people and how that works together to trigger my anxiety, I have to work on schedules. I am really stuck on a planner. I need things structured, organized so that I can perform on my best.

Daisy (13:30): And I try to transfer that over into the peer recovery coaches when I supervise, because it’s like octopus work, right? You’re doing so many things at once for so many people at the same time, and being able to kind of organize and compartmentalize all your resources, your contacts, so kind of minimize the anxiety and stress that can come from trying to connect somebody with a resource they’re not having them. So creating shared drives where a lot of resources were established for my recovery coaches.

Daisy (14:03): And making things easy, simplifying things for them because it’s critical also that we, as recovery coach, supervisors consider that all our recovery coaches are at a different place in their life on all aspects. And so in simplifying and organizing the resources for them, it’ll simplify a lot of things and allow them to really be present for their peer interactions sessions.

Steven (14:30): That’s, I think, really important for those folks out there who do supervise peers and just as important for peers who are being supervised to understand. Is there any parting advice you would give to (a) new supervisors and (b) those supervisors have been at it for a very long time?

Daisy (14:57): So I’m not an expert in anything. I’m a student of life, and I want to remain like that for the remainder of my existence, but I feel that both could benefit from this simple advice. Recovery coach supervising is not the type of role that I took the recovery coach supervisor training, I’m one and done. There’s a lot of your own personal internal work that you have to do around biased stigma and the views on our own personal views. A lot of work to do with advocacy and how we can assert ourselves for ourselves and our supervisees and kind of a little negotiating because I mean, to kind of meet our recovery coach needs and balance those needs with administrative needs, we have to have that better need to negotiate assertively.

Steven (15:50): Perfectly stated, Daisy. And I want to thank you for joining us today.

Daisy (15:55): Thanks for having me. I mean, I can’t believe this is a podcast that I still get nervous. I’m perspiring over here. Thanks for having me though. I’ll do it anytime.

Steven (16:03): And to our listeners, join us next time on Changing the Conversation.

Erika Simon, Producer (16:07): Visit c4innovates.com and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube for more resources to grow your impact. Thank you for joining us. This episode was produced by Erika Simon and Christina Murphy. Our theme song was written and performed by Peter Hanlon. Join us next time on Changing the Conversation.


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