© 2014 Luke T. Bush
[ NOTE: This article is based on information provided through email and sit down interviews. The interviewees reviewed the pre-publication copy for any factual errors and minor revisions were made to the final version below. ]
PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY — 6/9/14
Peers, not clients.
“I like to describe myself as a friend with connections,” said Nicholas Dubay when discussing his role as an Impeerium peer specialist.
Impeerium Peer Network is unlike most traditional mental health services. Participants in the program are treated as equals. There are general guidelines with a peer contract, said Nicholas, such as treating others with respect, but no one is told what to do. There is no doctor-patient or client-provider relationship.
The program is affiliated with NAMI-Champlain Valley, the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI).
Impeerium Program Coordinator Amy Belair explained how her agency differs in its services from NAMI-CV.
“Impeerium,” she said, “is a program that works with adults and not children and families, which comprises a significant portion of NAMI-CV's clients. Additionally, where NAMI may be more of a intermediary for an individual when dealing with community services, Impeerium is designed to be more of the next step for individuals who have been able to get their basic needs met and are not in crisis mode.”
“One of the cool things about Impeerium,” she continued, “is that we are able to create activities and opportunities that interest people, not just people with mental illness.”
The organization sponsors various public events where peers do not self-identify, creating a sense of community where everyone is equal. One example is the Creative Expressions program, a weekly event that allows participants to express themselves artistically and personally. Impeerium also sponsors an open mic night held monthly at the Koffee Kat.
With a traditional community services, observed Nicholas, a client is supervised, told to attend meetings, appointments, take medication. Impeerium is for someone to take the next step, learning how to make decisions on his own. As a peer specialist Nicholas only offers advice, allowing the peer to see the right path for himself.
Nicholas explained: “We want people to get to their own version of better.”
Another difference, explained Peer Specialist Terri Satoris, is that Impeerium employees can understand what someone else has gone through because they have experienced similar situations.
Before joining Impeerium Terri had found help through traditional community services. In contrast to those services, she said, Impeerium allows creativity while focusing on each individual to help that person reach mental wellness.
Impeerium specialists offer various viewpoints and suggestions at staff meetings when brainstorming ways to help someone. Sometimes there are differences of opinion and various viewpoints are debated but, said Terri, the main focus is on what is best for a peer.
One time Terri was working with a peer who needed to release bottled up feelings. This person didn’t have a car and had limited mobility. Terri brought the peer to a secluded spot where the peer could yell and scream. The peer said that was the best gift ever because the peer couldn’t get away to do that.
Not the type of solution, Terri noted, that could be accomplished with an office-bound service.
Coordinator Amy Belair also appreciates the independent and individualized model. There is no cookie cutter approach to helping peers, she said.
She found that there were problems with traditional services while working as an employee for public health services and the prison system. Sometimes there was disrespect towards those needing help. The programs were inefficient. Too much emphasis was placed on making money or keeping the numbers up. Mental health, she added, was regarded as an ugly stepchild.
Amy emphasized that Impeerium doesn’t provide counseling services. She explained: “Impeerium is designed to be more of the next step for individuals who have been able to get their basic needs met and are not in crisis mode.”
Impeerium is unique, she explained. While it is based on aspects of the drop-in center recovery model it doesn’t operate like such a center. Peers don’t usually connect with specialists at the office. Depending upon the individual a peer might meet with a specialist one-on-one for coffee or be invited to an Impeerium public event.
Impeerium tries to smooth out the road for those on their way to recovery and mental wellness.
For info about Impeerium: Amy Belair, firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (518) 324-6250.