​​​Let NC-H.O.P.E. prepare you to become

a certified peer support specialist! 

  • Do you want to help people? 
  • Would you like a rewarding career? 
  • Can you inspire others with your life experiences? 
  • Do you need PSS training to apply for NCCPSS Certification?


Becoming a Certified Peer Support Specialist is such a rewarding and exciting period. It can sometime be confusing and/or overwhelming knowing if you qualify. To check to see if you should take the next step review these notes from the NCCPSS credentialing website:

The NCCPSS Program defines Peer Support Specialists as people living in recovery from mental illness and/or substance use disorder who support others who can benefit from their experiences. The Program certifies persons with lived recovery experience in Serious Mental Illness (SMI), Substance Use Disorders (SUD), or both.

Serious Mental Illness (SMI)

The National Institute of Mental Health defines Serious mental illness (SMI) "as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. The burden of mental illnesses is particularly concentrated among those who experience disability due to SMI" (click here). Based on this definition, not all conditions experienced by individuals may be considered SMI. For example, sadness resulting from life stressors such as divorce and losing a loved one may not necessarily mean an individual has an SMI. It may lead to a mental health/substance use situation if it negatively impacts the individual's life or becomes disabling.

SMI may be grouped under the following categories:

  • Mood disorders – E.g., depressive disorders, bipolar disorders
  • Anxiety disorders – E.g., posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Psychotic Disorders – E.g., schizophrenia, delusional disorder, schizoaffective disorder

Substance Use Disorders (SUD)

The National Institute of Mental Health defines Substance Use Disorder as "a treatable mental disorder that affects a person’s brain and behavior, leading to their inability to control their use of substances like legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or medications" (click here). Examples of substances are:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Tobacco
  • Opioids (Oxycodone, Oxymorphone, Hydrocodone, Hydromorphone, Fentanyl, Morphine, Codeine, Methadone, Tramadol, Buprenorphine, Heroin)
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine

The emphasis is on the disabling aspect of mental illness and substance use disorders. The illness must significantly affect the person's thinking, emotional state, and behavior. The condition must disrupt the person's ability to work, carry out daily activities, or engage in satisfying relationships.


SAMHSA states, "Recovery signals a dramatic shift in the expectation for positive outcomes for individuals who experience mental and substance use conditions or the co-occurring of the two" (click here). SAMHSA outlined four dimensions of recovery as follows:

  • Health - Overcoming or managing one's disease(s) or symptoms and making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being
  • Home - Having a stable and safe place to live
  • Purpose - Conducting meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school volunteerism, family caretaking, or creative endeavors, and the independence, income, and resources to participate in society.
  • Community - Having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope

The NC Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Use Services (DMH/DD/SUS) in the State Peer Support Service definition states, "Recovery is a process of change through which an individual improves their health and wellness, lives a self-directed life and strives to reach their full potential; to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities." The State also defines the following concepts relevant to recovery:

  • Self-Determination - the right of an individual to direct their own services, to make decisions concerning their health and well-being, and to have help to make decisions from whomever they choose.
  • Self-Advocacy – identifying and purposefully asking for what one needs.
  • Health – learning to overcome, manage or more successfully live with the symptoms and making healthy choices that support one's physical and emotional well-being.
  • Community – Developing and building upon relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.

Recovery is a process that means different things to different people. Similarly, recovery is personal, and the individual may use various tools or pathways to achieve positive outcomes. The NCCPSS Program acknowledges many pathways to recovery, including harm reduction. Below are the paths to recovery and examples recognized by the NCCPSS Program.

Clinical Pathways - Recovery procedures are supported by the expertise of a healthcare provider, clinician, or other qualified professionals.

  • Medication Therapy
  • Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)
  • Counseling

Non-Clinical Pathways - Recovery procedures are peer-supported and frequently based in the community but do not include a licensed clinician.

  • Faith-Based recovery
  • Peer-Support services

Self-Management – Recovery processes may be considered "natural recovery" because they do not involve conventional services.

  • Spontaneous Recovery

The NCCPSS Program requires all applicants for certification to meet the following Program eligibility requirements and submit a complete certification application by mail or online.

  • Must be 18 years or older
  • Have lived experiences and in recovery from a serious mental illness and/or substance use disorder
  • Must be in recovery for at least ONE year 
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent

The NCCPSS Program uses the application form to gather information to ensure that applicants meet the eligibility for certification.

Please note: In order to be certified by the state of North Carolina, you are also required to complete an additional 20-hrs of training in a related field. Learn more now.