by Stars Training Academy   0 Comments

Lorne teaching at Hot Spot

By Lorne Wood, Peer Training Specialist


One of the earliest memories is of my dad talking with some man at the front door to our apartment, and the man pulled out a knife and suddenly stabbed my dad in the side. My father lived, but the incident had an impact on me. My parents dealt Meth out of our LA County home and I’m pretty sure the guy who stabbed him was an irate customer.

I was about nine years old when I was taken away from my parents, along with my two brothers, and we were put into the Los Angeles foster care system. I eventually moved through about 14 foster homes in the next seven years. Despite this, I fondly recall a fair amount of my childhood after that. I did well in school, had extremely high-test scores, and even got accepted to the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program.

I received a lot of therapy throughout those years, and over the past six years, I have had the amazing opportunity to work in behavioral health in capacities that encourage me to use that experience in a positive way. Now, I work as a Peer Training Specialist for the Stars Training Academy, and I get to travel the United States training mental health professionals in a youth-oriented evidenced-supported practice (the Transition to Independence Process (TIP) Model) and sharing my perspective and insights as a consumer.

So as a person with “lived experience” myself, I want to share what I think Peer Support Specialists bring to the table. The simplest answer is that they provide hope. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that one of the key beliefs that made it hard for me to deal with my depression when I was younger was the belief that I was alone in my depression, that there was something wrong with me and I was different than those around me. Being able to dispel this belief is, in my opinion, one of the most important aspects of being a peer. Peers are living proof that there’s a point in having hope.

One of the parts about being a youth peer that I find most fascinating is the innate ability to place yourself in that person’s shoes and understand why they are responding to their circumstances and events in their life the way that they are. For example, I’ve found that while I don’t always have the answers for someone, it is still very easy for me to understand and empathize with them when they are isolating, ditching school, smoking weed, etc. This is in part because they are handling their struggles in a way very similar to how I handled mine. Some might say that you can never truly understand someone else’s struggles or emotions. I believe that if you can make that person feel heard and not judged, if you can be empathic without trying to fix them, then they may feel understood.

What else do peers do?

Bond Over Interests


Because many peers are the same age group as the people they work with, it makes sense that we would have similar interests. I worked with a peer who used to wear a lot of clothes with his favorite sports teams on them knowing that it was something that would start a conversation. I spent a fair amount of time bonding with the youth by playing video games and guitar, because that was always a promising way to build rapport.

Bridging the Gap

It’s common to see people who are reluctant to engage in therapy even if they are engaged in peer services. Peers can help with this by asking youth they have strong rapport with if they would be willing to talk with their therapist more. I’ve found that if I have that rapport and if I can tell them I understand how talking to a therapist might be stressful for them, they are usually willing to at least give it a try.

Empathy and Understanding

While this isn’t exclusive to peers, it is worth noting that they often have the first-hand experience that makes it easier to relate and validate someone’s struggles.

By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it should paint a picture of why peers are important in mental health and should be valued like other mental health professionals.


by Stars Training Academy   1 Comment

HOPE is the indispensable instigator for change, progress, and recovery – the sacred spark that prods us to get out of bed and show up, and to persist when things get difficult and scary. Hope is the catalyst that launches civil rights movements and social revolutions. And without hope, disadvantaged youth will not seek out, let alone stay in services that try to help them address their many challenges. Hope is foundational to our work.

We hope that our youthful clients are hopeful – but what can practitioners do that actually instills and nurtures hope? Below is my Top 10 list for ways to build and sustain hope in ourselves and in youth. (Hope you find it helpful!)

Practice Hopeful Skills for Yourself

Hopeless providers cannot share what they don’t have and cannot authentically teach what they don’t practice. Acknowledging that we are all susceptible to hopelessness and cynicism when repeatedly confronted with painful situations and seemingly intractable problems is important. Identifying our own wellsprings of hope and mindfully and routinely tapping into them is essential. Take the long‐view — we often wish to see some immediate results and hear some warm, fuzzy feedback from the youth we are trying to help. This seldom happens in the 6-month treatment plan we may be allotted.

Listen, Listen and Then…Listen a Little More

How well you can be present with an open heart and open mind is one of the most precious gifts you can offer. Remember, listening is not the same as waiting for other people to shut up, so you can talk.

Look for Strengths and Past Successes

Our culture tends to be very problem-oriented and so much clinical training is focused on uncovering, describing and documenting what’s wrong.

Ensure Access to Peer Supports

Sometimes described as “living embodiments of hope,” peer supporters and people with lived experiences of recovery offer powerful medicine.

Share Stories of Hope

Cultivate and collect examples from your own life, family and friends, and from people that you have helped that illustrate how people have overcome adversity in their lives. Check out YouTube or the Mental Health Channel as other potential sources of youth telling their own stories of struggle and eventual success. Watch them with your youth.

Identify Small Steps

Often the journey of a thousand miles seems so overwhelming. Breaking it down to smaller, day-by-day action items can build confidence and increase hope.

Help Youth Envision a Positive Future

Research indicates that the more people use their pre-frontal cortex, the easier it is for them to begin to drive present-day actions, plans, and choices. They would use the frontal cortex to visualize where they most want to be, what they most want to be doing and who they want to be with.

Facilitate Connection with the Community

Ultimately, youth cannot rely on mental health clinics and social service agencies to sustain a sense of hope and meaningful roles. Practitioners need to create and support exposures and opportunities for youth to link with schools, training programs, and cultural and spiritual institutions.

Rehearse Hopeful, Compassionate Self-talk

The more youth can be guided to give themselves some credit and encouragement, the better. These are often the little sayings that Grandmothers repeat to us: “You’re doing the best you can,” “You can make it if you set your mind to it,” and “I believe in you.”

Assist Youth in Connecting with Nature

Revitalizing youth by accompanying them to a park, or on a nature walk can inspire hope by seeing the resiliency and wonder in the world around them.

How do you keep hope alive?

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