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Can Peer Support Specialists Deliver Technology-Based Job Interview Training for People with Psychiatric Disabilities? An Assessment of Community Needs and Priorities

The project: People living with serious mental illness disproportionately live in chronic poverty; conversely, poverty is a risk factor for mental health problems. While 70% of people with serious mental illness want to work, only 10-15% are employed, in part because social and cognitive challenges may interfere with finding a job. This project explored innovative ways that people with serious mental illness can obtain vocational support from Certified Peer Support Specialists (individuals with a lived experience of mental illness who have obtained training on how to serve others with similar experiences), and researchers focused on whether a virtual reality job interview training program (see can be effectively delivered by a Peer Support Specialist.

The process: Researchers held focus groups with 34 Certified Peer Support Specialists (CPSS) from across Michigan to learn more about their experiences with vocational services, and they trained eight CPSSs in the virtual reality job interview program. 

Results: The peer support specialists described unique ways they are able to deliver the virtual reality job interview training. Their coaching would include self-disclosure of difficulties with learning new technology; managing working life while living with a mental illness; and applying for jobs much like those to which their clients would be applying. Peer support specialists often described providing social support, practical knowledge, and linkages to needed resources for people with serious mental illnesses who are looking for work. Most participants who were trained on the virtual reality job interview program said the program would be exciting for peers, that they learned something by practicing with it, and that they had positive experiences with it, which suggests virtual reality job training would be an acceptable service for their toolbox. 

Adrienne Lapidos, U-M Medical School and Department of Psychiatry
Treatment Innovation and Dissemination Lab

Matthew Smith, U-M School of Social Work
Treatment Innovation and Dissemination Lab

Michele Heisler, Michigan Medicine