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The professionalization of peer support in the USA: A cautionary tale.

Darby Penney

In memory of Darby Penney


Video Documentation



Chyrell D. Bellamy is an Associate Professor in Yale’s Department of Psychiatry and serves as the Joint Director of Yale’s Program on Recovery and Community Health and the Director of Peer Support Services & Research. She is the Interim Director of the Office of Recovery Community Affairs for Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS). She identifies as a Black woman with lived experience of trauma, mental illness/distress, and addiction. She is known nationally and internationally for her work in developing, implementing, and disseminating peer support approaches for organizations and communities. DrBellamy is a proud 2013 recipient of the Pearl Johnson Advocacy Award from the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARPA). Dr. Bellamy’s research examines sociocultural experiences and pathways to wellness and recovery, like peer support and community based approaches. She has received various federal and state grants. Currently she is Principal Investigator on a NIH Common Fund U01 award to study culturally responsive faith-based SUD interventions for Black and Latinx people.

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Peter Beresford OBE is Visiting Professor at the University of East Anglia and Co-Chair of Shaping Our Lives, the national disabled people’s and service users’ organization and network. He is a long term user of mental health services and has a longstanding background of involvement in issues of participation as writer, researcher, activist and teacher. He is co-editor of Madness, Violence And Power: A critical collection University of Toronto Press, 2019) and co-editor of The Routledge International Handbook of Mad Studies (2021 forthcoming).


Celia Brown is a psychiatric survivor who was instrumental in developing the peer specialist civil service title in the country and first peer specialist in NYS. Celia is the Regional Advocacy Specialist at the NYC Field Office, New York State Office of Mental Health. She provides technical assistance and support to people with psychiatric disabilities and their families. Celia facilitates trainings on peer support, self-care and wellness approaches. She earned her NYS Peer Certification. Celia is a long-time leader in the peer movement.  She has utilized her knowledge around food and wellness to improve her own physical health and provides training on this topic. She is the founder of Surviving Race: The Intersection of Injustice, Disability and Human Rights, and Board President of MindFreedom International. She is a member of the Healing and Hip Hop team and uses her experiences in recovery through music.

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Lynnae Brown serves as Director of Howie The Harp (HTH) Advocacy Center – a peer led and staffed employment training program for people in mental health recovery. Based in Harlem, New York City HTH has trained hundreds of individuals across the NYC metropolitan area to offer supportive services using their lived experience along with peer support principles. Lynnae is a NYS Certified Peer Specialist and her work was featured in BRICTV’s #BHheard Mental Health Series in 2018. 


Chris Hansen has worked in mental health user/survivor politics and peer groups in New Zealand and internationally for over twenty years. Although initially employed in mental health services as manager of a Community Mental Health service, an unexpected promotion to an “out” service user via involuntary commitment to a psychiatric ward caused her to see and value the power of peer support. Chris worked as a service user advisor and leader in New Zealand. She was a member of the New Zealand delegation to the United Nations, developing the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She also served on the board for the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry. For most of the past two decades, Chris has been promoting, developing, and providing training in Intentional Peer Support and has assisted in the development of grassroots, state and federally-overseen peer-run crisis respites and research projects in a number of countries.


Chacku Mathai is an Indian-American, born in Kuwait, who became involved in consumer/survivor/ex-patient advocacy efforts as a teenager with a psychiatric and addiction history. His personal and family experiences with racialized trauma led to suicide attempts, drug overdoses, and psychiatric and addiction diagnoses as a youth and young adult. These experiences launched Chacku and his family towards a number of efforts to advocate for alternative supports, equity, and inclusion in the community. He has over 35 years of experience in a variety of roles with local, statewide, national, and international community organizing efforts including as a founding board member for the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, Vice President of the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy, President of Friends of Recovery – New York, Executive Director for the STAR Center, Associate Executive Director for NYAPRS, and CEO for the MHA of Rochester. He started some of the first local peer support groups, services, and rights based advocacy initiatives in Rochester, NY.

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