Peer Specialist Resources: An Overview of the Youth and Young Adult Peer Support Training

By: Raven Garza (she/they)

A group of YAYAPS participants poses for a group photo

With 20% of youth having a diagnosable mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder at some point in their development, there’s a clear need for mental health professionals who can effectively support young people in our community.
If you work as a peer specialist, we invite you to check out our free Youth and Young Adult Peer Support Training (YAYAPS). The sessions are led by Senior Administrative Program Coordinator Jessi Davis and Project Manager Darcy Kues from the South Southwest Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (MHTTC).
We met up with Darcy and Jessi to hear more about the training’s format, what you can expect to learn, and some helpful resources to continue exploring youth peer support.


What is the Youth and Young Adult Peer Support Training?

Texas-based nonprofit Via Hope originally developed this training from June 2019 to March 2020 with help from Darcy, Jessi, and a workgroup. In 2021, Via Hope allowed the South Southwest MHTTC to update and share the Youth and Young Adult Peer Support Training (YAYAPS) across the country.
YAYAPS was developed to train peer supporters about youth voice and issues specific to youth navigating mental health or substance use challenges.


Who should register for YAYAPS?

Anyone who works or volunteers as a peer specialist can apply to the training; there’s no age requirement for participating. Whether you’re a young person just beginning to explore peer support or a program manager for a youth-serving organization with 20 years of experience— we encourage you to join us.
Although the training is hosted by folks in the South Southwest region, we welcome people from anywhere in the U.S. The only prerequisite to join is that you must have previous formal training in peer support practice (e.g., your state’s peer specialist certification training or Intentional Peer Support).


A note about Training of Trainers for Youth and Young Adult Peer Support

Completing YAYAPS is a prerequisite for becoming a trainer and co-facilitating YAYAPS in your community, but the Training of Trainers session is currently invite-only due to our limited capacity.


Let’s dive into the training’s format and what you’ll learn

YAYAPS is a three-day training that balances instructional material and experiential practice.
“We do a lot of sending people into breakout rooms to talk through their own experiences. So, integrating their own experiences of being young people, whether that's currently or in the past, with how they can contextualize the support they're giving a young person now.”
-Darcy Kues, Lead Curriculum Writer at South Southwest MHTTC
Darcy goes on to share that they try to incorporate different formats - such as structured reflections, group discussions, video presentations, and interactive activities - to meet people's learning preferences. Darcy and Jessi aim to allow folks to connect with someone else or reflect on their own experiences during every single learning module.
By fostering this engaging and supportive space, our team often sees a strong sense of community form within each cohort. People share wisdom with others during sessions, and they’ll even form Facebook groups after completing the training to keep in touch and continue learning together.
“A lot of times the ‘mentor figures’ tend to be the young folks in the room, which is a really cool thing to watch,” Jessi adds. “It’s like a flip of what society would expect.”


What can you expect to gain from YAYAPS?

YAYAPS training will give you foundational information about youth experience with mental health and substance use challenges, knowledge about the unique issues for youth navigating recovery and youth-serving systems, and best practices for peer specialists looking to support youth.
After completing the training you’ll be able to:

  • Practice effective ways of meeting youth and young people “where they are”
  • Build authentic connections with young people based on lived experience, regardless of differences in age or background
  • Identify stigmatizing language used to describe young people and effectively reframe that language through the lens of peer values
  • Recognize common responses to trauma that young people go through
  • Utilize foundational knowledge of power and privilege to support youth experiencing oppression
  • Assist young people in learning to advocate for themselves within the settings that young people must navigate
  • And much more

After a recent training session, Darcy asked the group, “What is one thing from this training that will stick with you or that you want to incorporate in how you support someone as a peer supporter?”

One participant replied, “I truly went back to my childhood in a different space, and I resolved some things in myself— now I feel more confident supporting my youth population. It is a whole other world of peer support, and it was more than what I expected!”

“I definitely gained a larger understanding and view of oppression,” another person shared. “Coming back with me is reframing and re-emphasizing authenticity.”


Want to learn more about youth peer support?

Darcy and Jessi recommended a few of their favorite resources on youth and young adult peer support:


Get updates about future YAYAPS trainings and learning opportunities

We hope this gave you more insight into the Youth and Young Adult Peer Support Training. Still have questions about the content, application process, or eligibility? Feel free to reach out to us at [email protected].

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