Peer Support Centers

Tennessee has a network of 45 Peer Support Centers statewide. Click here for a current list of Peer Support Centers.

Peer Support Centers are consumer-directed centers where consumers develop their own programs to supplement existing mental health services, address issues such as social isolation and discrimination, and enjoy opportunities for socialization, personal and educational enhancement, and peer support.

A Peer Support Center is a central place for consumer self-help, advocacy, education and socialization. A Peer Support Center provides a socialization service that addresses the isolation felt by many mental health consumers. They are open to all mental health consumers. No admission fee or membership fee is charged.

Peer Support Centers have various recovery-oriented activities as their primary focus:

  • Peer counseling: Peer counseling involves an individual discussing a personal problem with someone who has been in a similar situation. Peer counseling occurs in one-to-one settings or in self-help groups. In Peer Support Centers, the staff, which consists entirely of consumers, has been trained in peer counseling.
  • WRAP®: Most Peer Support Centers have at least one staff member trained to lead classes in the Wellness Recovery Action Plan®. Click here for more information on WRAP®.
  • Advocacy: Advocacy involves helping another person get what he or she needs. Members of a Peer Support Center may feel more comfortable stating their needs to staff and members than to treatment providers.
  • Volunteerism: Each Peer Support Center participates in at least four volunteer activities throughout the year, such as walking dogs at an animal shelter, sorting food at a food bank or picking up trash in the neighborhood.
  • Social club: Provides a place for people to come, make friends and have fun.
  • Outside social activities: This involves the Peer Support Center's participating in local community activities like attending movies, sporting events or visiting local community sites.
  • Artistic endeavors: Members have the opportunity to develop creative skills and experience art as a form of relaxation and creativity.
  • Education: This usually involves either the teaching of the BRIDGES course, a 14-week mental health educational course, or bringing in an outside speaker to talk on various educational topics.




Click here for a video interview with Sheryl McCormick about peer support centers.

History of Peer Support Centers in Tennessee

Peer Support Centers began in Tennessee as Drop-in Centers. The foundation of the drop-in center movement in Tennessee was the development of the family and consumer self-help movement. This movement's development began with the awarding of three grants to the then-named Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (now the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services) in 1983. A major goal for these grants was the development of family and consumer self-help groups. This led to the formation of The Tennessee Alliance of the Mentally Ill in 1985 and the Tennessee Mental Health Consumers' Association in 1988.

The establishment of the family and consumer self-help movement changed how mental health services were delivered as families and consumers became an integral part of Tennessee's mental health system. The development of the drop-in centers was a reflection of these changes taking place in the mental health system. In the late 1980s, the Tennessee mental health system was undergoing a period of significant change and transition. Community services that were once focused exclusively on treatment were now including case management, employment, supported housing, psychosocial rehabilitation, social support services, family education and support, and peer support services. More importantly, both the mental health system and its consumers were beginning to change their perceptions, namely, realizing that recovery from mental illness was possible and that mental health consumers could play a role in their own recovery.

The drop-in center appeared to be a natural service to be developed during this time period marked by transition. While the mental health system began doing a better job in meeting the clinical and psychosocial needs of consumers, their social needs were not being addressed. There were day treatment and psychosocial programs to attend during the day, but no structured activities available in the evenings or on the weekends. The drop-in center provided a place for consumers to go where they could socialize and make friends.

Plans for Tennessee's first drop-in center, Friends Helping Friends in Nashville, began in March 1989 following the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation's (now the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services) receiving another grant. This three-year grant, called the "Consumer-Operated Service Demonstration Grant," from the Center for Mental Health Services was the impetus for the drop-in center. The development of the center evolved naturally out of the consumer self-help movement. Its creation was a partnership between a local consumer self-help group, Park Center, and the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (now the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services). The drop-in center had four goals: 1) To empower consumers by helping them to gain control over their lives and the services they receive; 2) to provide emotional support to consumers; 3) to combat the stigma of mental illness; 4) to promote independence through consumer-operated services. An evaluation conducted at the end of the three-year federal grant found that the drop-in center was very successful in accomplishing these goals.

The Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (now the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services) was pleased with the success of this first drop-in center and, in its efforts to continue grassroots support for mental health services, wished to fund additional drop-in centers. Through the years as funding became available, additional drop-in centers were created. A major impetus for new drop-in centers came through the development of the state's Master Plan in 1992. The Master Plan represented the most significant refocusing of the mental health service system since the inception of the Department in the 1950s. It set the course for public mental health policy for the foreseeable future. The Master Plan was a yearlong collaboration with the Department and Finance and Administration to develop a plan for mental health services and facilities in the state. The Plan's mandate was that the state could not continue inpatient services at the 1992 level and meet the needs of the majority of mental health consumers who were living in the community. The Plan recommended significant changes in resource distribution in the mental health system, reducing the number of inpatient beds statewide and increasing the community support program for seriously mentally ill adults. Among the services recommended for expansion was the development of additional drop-in centers. Funding for 15 additional drop-in centers at $90,000 was made available from 1992 to 1995. Since 1995, 28 more drop-in centers have been created. Today, the Department provides $4.9 million to 14 agencies to support drop-in centers at 46 different sites.

The drop-in center had three primary goals: 1) to provide opportunities for socialization for mental health consumers, 2) to provide educational opportunities for mental health consumers, 3) to provide emotional support to mental health consumers. The drop-in center was a central place for consumer self-help, advocacy, education and socialization. Through the drop-in center, consumers developed their own programs to supplement existing mental health services and expand the resources of the community. A drop-in center provided a socialization service that addressed the isolation felt by many mental health consumers. All of the staff at drop-in centers were mental health consumers who were trained in the following areas: peer counseling, Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation, how to establish and assist an advisory board, setting rules and addressing disciplinary problems, and dealing with aggressive behavior.

In 2005, drop-in centers became Peer Support Centers. This change reflected important changes taking place within both the consumer movement and the mental health system of Tennessee. The continued growth of the consumer movement in Tennessee had increasingly raised the awareness on the part of mental health consumers of the possibility of recovery. The term recovery has become a popular concept to acknowledge that people can successfully contend with severe and persistent disorders, function well and create positive lives. As such, recovery is a multifaceted concept with a connotation that persons can and do restore and/or generate to full human capacity. In regard to the impact of the concept of recovery on the mental health system, recovery can be construed as a paradigm, an organizing construct that can guide the planning and implementation of services and supports with people with mental illness. Such a system is person-oriented, respects people's needs holistically and contends with more than just their symptoms. Such a system meets basic needs and addresses problems in living. It empowers people to move toward self-management of their condition. The orientation is one of hope with an emphasis on positive mental health and wellness. A recovery-oriented system encourages people to connect through mutual self-help. It focuses on positive functioning and rebuilding positive relationships.

The name "drop-in center" no longer reflected what was occurring at the centers nor was the name in keeping with the recovery vision. Changing the name to Peer Support Centers also changed the dynamics of the movement and generated new energy and enthusiasm. The activities for the Peer Support Centers also reflected the change to a recovery focus with an emphasis upon Peer Support Centers' becoming places where consumers can obtain the needed education, information and support they need to manage their own recovery process.

Peer Support Centers today have become places where consumers direct their own recovery process and where consumers acquire the necessary skills for the utilization of resources within the community. The centers are places where consumers can become educated about their mental illness and its treatment and where consumers can learn about the resources they need to achieve their own individualized recovery goal plan. The centers offer a range of skill-building and recovery activities developed and led by consumers. The consumer staff is trained in the recovery process and in how to engage other consumers in their own recovery process. The attitude and approach of the staff and the activities of the center promote the involvement of mental health consumers in their own treatment and recovery from mental illness. The consumers who attend the center have an opportunity to develop peer leadership skills that enable them to participate in various roles within the center. The centers have become a recovery resource for consumers for integration into the community, rather than the only source for emotional sustenance.