Peer support is an often ignored option in the treatment of schizophrenia. However, connecting with people who have lived similar experiences and are trained to share their knowledge, mention the things that they’ve gone through, and offer emotional, social and even practical support can be inspiring to someone learning to manage their schizophrenia. Sometimes it is as simple as knowing you are not alone.

Peer support is an often ignored option in the treatment of schizophrenia. However, connecting with people who have lived similar experiences and are trained to share their knowledge, mention the things that they’ve gone through, and offer emotional, social and even practical support can be inspiring to someone learning to manage their schizophrenia. Sometimes it is as simple as knowing you are not alone.

Hosts Rachel Star Withers and Gabe Howard explore ways that peer support can help people with schizophrenia.

Juliet C. Dorris-Williams, Executive Director of The P.E.E.R. Center in Columbus, Ohio, joins to discuss what a huge impact a connection with a peer supporter can have.

Juliet C. Dorris-Williams

Juliet C. Dorris-Williams is the Executive Director of The P.E.E.R. Center in Columbus, Ohio. The P.E.E.R. Center is a nonprofit drop-in wellness, recovery, and support center. Like each of the staff members, Juliet is living in long-term recovery. She spent more than 2 decades working in state government (TN, IN, and OH) providing administrative oversight for HIV/STD prevention, minority health, alcohol and other drug abuse prevention programs, as well as direct client services in multiple social service settings. Juliet is the board treasurer of OhioPRO — Ohio Peer Recovery Organizations, a statewide organization dedicated to advocating for peer recovery organizations, and is a member of the Recovery Ohio Advisory Council, appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine. She has a BS in Psychology from Indiana State University, an MSW from the Indiana University School of Social Work at Indianapolis, and is an independently licensed social worker supervisor and Ohio Peer Supporter. Juliet is a published author and a podcast host.

Rachel Star Withers

Rachel Star Withers creates videos documenting her schizophrenia, ways to manage and let others like her know they are not alone and can still live an amazing life. She has written Lil Broken Star: Understanding Schizophrenia for Kids and a tool for schizophrenics, To See in the Dark: Hallucination and Delusion Journal. Fun Fact: She has wrestled alligators.

To learn more about Rachel, please visit her website,

Gabe Howard

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.

Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website,

Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Schizophrenia. Hosted by Rachel Star Withers, an advocate who lives openly with Schizophrenia. We’re talking to experts about all aspects of life with this condition. Welcome to the show!

Rachel Star Withers: Welcome to Inside Schizophrenia, a Healthine Media Podcast. I’m your host, Rachel Star Withers here with my incredible co-host Gabe Howard. Today we’re going to be talking about peer support as part of a schizophrenia treatment plan. Now, when I say peer support, I’m not just talking about your friends. I’m not talking about hanging out with your bestie, but people with similar lived experiences who have been trained to share their knowledge, the things that they’ve gone through, and offer emotional, social and even practical support to other people in similar situations. To help us understand the differences, later on in the show, we have a wonderful guest, Juliet Dorris-Williams, who is actually the executive director of The PEER Center in Columbus, Ohio. She’s also an author and fellow podcaster. And I think she’s a very close friend of Gabe’s.

Gabe Howard: She is. I used to work for her at The PEER Center and she and I helped usher in certified peer recovery supporters and everything that that entails to the state of Ohio. So when I tell people that she literally wrote the book, she was one of the people who helped write the book on certified peer recovery supporters in the state of Ohio. Very incredible woman.

Rachel Star Withers: And that’s very important because to start off with, I need to make a confession. I’ve actually never been involved in any peer support programs.

Gabe Howard: I think you are incorrect, because if I understand correctly, in your day job, you work with other actors and you go to groups where you play that zip zig zag game and you you practice your acting skills with a group of other actors so that you can improve your acting skills. Isn’t that just peer support for actors?

Rachel Star Withers: I feel that you could say that about any class, though.

Gabe Howard: Exactly. And that’s really what I want people to be thinking about. Anybody who is in any type of job or situation that meets with other people who are in a similar job or situation to exchange ideas, to exchange support, to, you know, just vent.

Rachel Star Withers: Now also, Gabe, in my ignorance, I only know what I’ve seen from TV. So when I watch TV and I’ve seen Alcoholics Anonymous on TV, to me it looks like it’s a one on one thing where I guess if I’m tempted, I call up my sponsor and like, I don’t know. They’re like, put down the drink. And from a very Christian background, for a while at a Christian school, we had accountability partners where if you were tempted to sin, you had to go and talk to your accountability partner first. Or if you sinned, you had to go and like confess to them. Is that is that what a peer supporter is? Am I just like assigned someone? And, hey, I think I’m I’m about to have a mental breakdown.

Gabe Howard: Yes. No. Largely no. It can be right. Peer support looks in all kinds of different ways. Let’s use The PEER Center as an example. Let’s say that you’re lonely. Let’s say that you’re having, you know, vague thoughts of suicide, not not crisis. It’s just your you know, it’s entering your consciousness and you think to yourself, I need to talk to somebody and I need to talk to somebody now and somebody who understands me. Making an appointment with the doctor can take six weeks. Getting getting a medical professional on the phone can. Can take days. Going to the emergency room can take literal hours. The purpose of The PEER Center is it’s drop in center. That’s the key. So when I am feeling this way, I can just show up and walk in and say, hey, I just don’t want to be alone right now. And in that way it can look like whatever we want. But mostly what that looks like is playing cards, watching a movie, doing a puzzle, taking a class, you know, like arts and crafts or going to a support group. Peer recovery supporters, peer supporters, certified peer supporters, they don’t diagnose, they don’t provide treatment. They just help you with your day to day.

Rachel Star Withers: Which is great because as you mentioned a little bit earlier, suicidal thoughts. A lot of times, yes, you’re feeling down and you might be having very light, suicidal urges enough that if you were to go to the doctor, if you were to go to the emergency room, many times, you know, they’re going to be like, well, are you an active threat to yourself right now? And you’re like, well, no. I’m just, you know, the thoughts are there, but. Okay. Are you planning do you have a suicide plan? No, I’m just you know, and that’s kind of like you’re going to be dismissed. But if you’re able to go and actually talk to someone who has those thoughts and they’re like, yes, I live with that daily, here are some of the coping techniques I use. Here’s some things that they suggest you try. And they’re not big things like because obviously as a friend, as a peer supporter, you can’t say, here’s some medicine that’ll make that go better. You know, it’s like, no, as someone who also has this thing, this is how I make it day to day.

Gabe Howard: I want to build on your emergency room analogy because the number one goal for most people living with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, and the number one goal for our family members and our friends and our support system is to avoid that crisis point, which which includes going to the emergency room, which includes police involvement, which includes being committed to an inpatient unit. We’re trying to avoid all of those things. So we want to build layers much further down the ladder so that we don’t end up at that crisis point.

Rachel Star Withers: And this has been proven to be very effective. It offers social support. Just being with someone like you’re saying, makes a huge difference. Me being alone with my thoughts versus me being there with somebody who might even be knowing what I’m thinking because they think similar thoughts. You know, that’s a whole different level. For one, it pulls me out of my head. And to be able to talk about scary thoughts with someone who’s like, Yeah, I understand vs., Oh dear God, you’re insane. That’s a big difference for me over the years, being able to talk to other people with schizophrenia. And I’ll mention something like, Oh, I have that exact same thing. And it’s like, really? And I have this connection.

Gabe Howard: Obviously people living with schizophrenia, they have challenges that are unique to them that they want to discuss with other people who are understand and and denying them. This is is really just denying an innate human experience. We all do this right. You know, during the death of a loved one, we tend to talk to other people who have lost loved ones to find ways to cope. But Rachel, I see our emails. You get emails from people all the time. They’re like, I wish you could talk to my son, daughter, friend, brother, sister, because they live with schizophrenia and they’re not doing as well as you. And I would love for you to talk to them. And that shows me that they do understand the basis for this. Right. Because they think that Rachel has some insight that will make their loved ones better. And that’s that’s literally peer support.

Rachel Star Withers: I think many times it’s like you want to see somebody who’s going through or has gone through what you have and they’re doing okay. Sometimes I feel like a lot of people out there, it’s like, well, to inspire others, I have to be doing amazing. No, many times just doing OK is so inspiring to someone who is in crisis or someone who has absolutely given up hope thinking, Well, I’ve lost everything. How can I go on? And then somebody who’s already lost everything and gone on starts talking to you and you’re like, Oh wow, I can make it. Other people are going through and have gone through this exact same thing. And to me, that connection is far stronger many times than talking to a psychiatrist or a therapist.

Gabe Howard: We’ve all heard the person who brags about all the stuff that they can do. Right? I can do this, I can do this, I can do this. And we think to ourselves, pics or it didn’t happen. Show me. I want to see you do it. I want proof that you did it. And people with schizophrenia, are people just like everybody else. So when a doctor says, you can do it and here’s how, that has real value, it does, but it also has real value when you see somebody do it. And I don’t think that we can dismiss that and we often do. They’re like, Well, a doctor is the best person for you. And I would challenge that. Absolutely. A doctor is the best person for you, but a peer supporter is also the best person for you and an occupational therapist is the best person for you. This isn’t an issue where we have to pick one. We need to stop thinking about it that way. We’re always thinking about, well, we can only have one thing. That’s nonsense. We can have unlimited things. And peer support is one of those things that we can choose. And it’s very powerful.

Rachel Star Withers: As you mentioned, it’s used in like all types of situations from like mommy groups to very serious substance abuse. It’s also used with different people who have survived trauma, you know, things that they’ve gone through. One of the interesting things I read online was for landmine survivors in Afghanistan, Bosnia, El Salvador and Vietnam that actually talking to other landmine survivors was one of the most important things that helped them recover. Other people who had been through that specific trauma. When it comes to victims of domestic violence, it’s been found that women’s peer support groups are one of the most helpful treatment options because you’re talking to other women, other partners who have went through the exact same thing. And I feel like that especially because you’re dealing with, okay, well, how did you escape this situation?

Rachel Star Withers: Peer supporters have a host of different responsibilities. If you’re out there listening to this thinking, Wow, I would like to do that, but I hate talking to people, that sounds horrible. Going back to what Gabe was talking about, The PEER Center, it’s amazing because sometimes it’s as simple as playing a game of ping pong with somebody or like sitting and watching a movie with them. You don’t have to have these deep discussions, you know, digging into the trauma and the past experiences. Sometimes it’s just nice to know, Hey, this person gets me and we don’t need to talk about it. They just get me. One thing that I know a lot of schools have implemented is peer listening, where you have a student gets to go and talk to another student and what they do is active listening. They do not give advice saying, oh, you should totally break up with Jason. They just listen to the problems that the other students are going through. And especially when I think about like middle school, high school, that’s amazing. It could really help so many kids. But I also want to point out is I think if you’re the person listening, if you’re the peer supporter, that helps you too. One of the best ways to learn something is when you get the basics to turn around and teach someone else the basics, because you now figure out from firsthand experience, okay, what are my next steps? Being able to talk to somebody else and help them is I don’t want to say empowering, but it is a lot of times.

Gabe Howard: Rachel, I agree with you. Now, obviously, I’m going to give the caveat that it’s not about you, it’s about them. But, you are absolutely right. This is a way to learn more. I think about all of the things that I understood about my own journey, and I understood it well. In fact, I was an expert in my own journey, and when I became an advocate, I started pushing that out there. These are all the things that would have helped Gabe and I was right. These were all the things that would help Gabe. But there’s a lot of people who aren’t Gabe in the world. And by listening to their stories and by getting that information, I became a much better, more well-rounded advocate and in peer support by listening to those stories, by really, really listening and understanding and having these conversations, you become a better peer supporter. It’s a really important thing to bring up because like Rachel said, I live with bipolar disorder, she lives with schizophrenia. But I could still be a good certified peer supporter to her because we have enough in common and because I understand what parts we have in common and what parts we don’t.

Rachel Star Withers: I think across the board then, Gabe, like we can agree that peer support programs, peer supporters are just great. So they obviously must be like super great for schizophrenia, right? It’s very interesting when I get to do research for the show and a few episodes ago we had an episode about dating and I was reaching out to dating experts and dating coaches who specialized in populations that might be classified as different than normal society. And they’re like, yes, I’m an expert in the field. And I said, okay, what about with schizophrenia? Whoa. Oh, I don’t think so. That’s no, that’s out of my expertise. Autism, Down syndrome, you know, all these different things, anxiety issues, helping them with dating. What about schizophrenia? No, no. I am not qualified to deal with that. Unfortunately, many times when it comes to peer support, when I started trying to find the articles and the studies, there aren’t many. And this is depressing, Gabe, currently there is no high-quality evidence available that either supports or refutes the effectiveness of peer support interventions for people with schizophrenia. My issue with this is that I always feel they’re putting people with schizophrenia in a in another category. It’s like, whoa, they’re too severe. It can help everyone but them. Only. Only like special psychiatrists should have anything to do with schizophrenia. So the statement alone was very jarring to me because I’m thinking in my mind like, No, this is incredible. This to me would help so many people with schizophrenia.

Gabe Howard: I want to make sure that the listeners are directed to the either support or refute.

Rachel Star Withers: Yes.

Gabe Howard: That’s a nod that nobody’s looking. They didn’t even try.

Rachel Star Withers: Yes.

Gabe Howard: Nobody is looking to see if this is a good thing or a bad thing or how to tweak it or how to make it better. They’re just like, No, not for you. And listen, I have not done a study. I believe my hypothesis is that peer support is extraordinarily valuable for people with schizophrenia. I, as a certified peer recovery supporter in the state of Ohio previously have seen it help people with schizophrenia. I would love to see this studied because I would love to have the data to show that people with schizophrenia really benefit from this. Or I would love to have the data to show that, hey, listen, we’ve got to tweak it slightly or we’ve got to do this. The fact that nobody’s looking is disturbing to me because it means that people with schizophrenia have one less thing that they can absolutely bank on for support and. The best that we can offer, of course, as as a as a podcast, when there’s no data is we believe that it works. I have seen it work. There’s lots of doctors who believe that it works, but there’s also lots of doctors who believe that it doesn’t. And there’s also lots of pushback on it. And it’s frustrating to me. It’s frustrating to me that nobody’s even trying. Nobody is looking into this.

Rachel Star Withers: Let’s talk about just the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, the isolation, the social issues. And then you think, okay, like this is a whole social network that the person is pulled into that is a safe place for them to be social and then to work with people who know that, hey, this person probably has an issue walking up and talking to people. I’m going to go as a peer supporter and start a nice conversation just about the weather, anything with this person who has a hard time. I think it’s just common sense that this would be great for those negative symptoms of wanting to isolate. One small study, Gabe, of 22 people found that actually going to peer support groups, having to talk to people weekly helped improve medication adherence. So actually taking your medication something about having to go and see other people like you kind of made you want to keep taking your meds, you know just that kind of, I would say unspoken accountability of OK these people. This is what they’re doing. All right. I don’t want to have to feel like I’m falling behind. Yes, medication adherence was enhanced when the person was involved in some sort of peer support program.

Gabe Howard: I’m really not surprised by this. I know that when I was first diagnosed and again, I live with with bipolar disorder, all of the information that I was getting about the medication was frankly scary and condescending. Thew you know, your pill case is bigger than your grandma’s. I was I was 26 years old. And I’m suddenly taking a handful of pills. Right. And just even the people who didn’t mean to be negative certainly weren’t positive. It was it was an anomaly to them that somebody so young would have to take so many pills. When I started going to the support group and I told the story, they were all like, Hey, don’t worry about it. Our pill cases are gigantic, too. And there was a camaraderie there. Suddenly I’m around people that are my own age and they’re speaking positively about the medication. Like, Yeah, of course it sucks to take a handful of medication, but you know what else sucks? You know, feeling suicidal. You know what else sucks? You know, mania and spending all of your rent and making your mom cry. So, yeah, you know, the pills kind of stink, but hey. And then suddenly there was just that bond there.

Rachel Star Withers: Something called guided peer support groups for schizophrenia exists. And I really like this model. So when you get there, you’re put into pairs to start with and you have 10 minutes to exchange positive experiences that you’ve had from like since the last time you were there. Then all the pairs go back to a group and you share what you just heard from the other person. So I’m not I’m not sharing my own life. This is what happened. It was all horrible. I’m sharing. Hey, Julie, over here. She was able to go grocery shopping yesterday, and she had no breakdowns. She was able to go in there, buy everything on her list, pay and go out. She was nervous the whole time, but she did it. I really like that style. And when it comes to schizophrenia, I don’t want to say that people need encouragement. But yes, sometimes like I don’t want to be like, okay, well, who cares that I went to the grocery store? You know, no one cares. That’s not a big deal. But other people with schizophrenia might hear and be like, Wow, no, that is a big deal. I know how hard it is to focus with voices. I know how hard it is to focus when there’s people everywhere. And dear God, the choices, I’m trying to find one thing and I’ve had to like walk back and forth over like these aisles.

Rachel Star Withers: And I’m getting confused now. Like there’s so many times everyone where I know exactly what I’m going into Wal-Mart for and I get so confused by the aisles that I can’t find even the section of the store. If I’m coming in there, let’s say for cereal, I’m over in home goods because that’s where bowls are and I’m just I’m getting lost. And it’s not like a loss of, hey, I went into Target and I just couldn’t stop shopping. It’s more of a loss that I’m confused why I’m here. Everything is kind of went together and then I wind up in the toy section because I now I’ve put together cereal with I was little, I was a kid. So now I’m looking at toys. Why am I looking at toys? I’m a grown adult, and when there’s a cool Power Ranger figure, I might want to go in and just buy that anyway. So, that’s what happens to me. So having someone be like Rachel, that’s actually amazing that you were able to go in there, get the cereal you wanted, or even get a cereal brand. You might not even found the Lucky Charms. You came out with Raisin Bran, but hey, that’s a step in the right direction.

Gabe Howard: And that’s that’s just a great role for peer supporters. It’s just a connection that is much, much more understandable. I’m going to give an example, Rachel, but it’s just like getting weight loss advice from somebody who has always been thin. Their weight loss advice could be dead on. But you just you struggle. You struggle believing them. They’ve never been on a diet. They’ve never had issues exercising, and yet they’re giving you weight loss advice. Again, their advice is perfect. It’s 100% perfect. They are right. But yeah, I’d much rather hear that advice from somebody who just lost 50 pounds, even though it’s the identical advice. I want to hear from somebody who chubby like me.

Rachel Star Withers: Very true. You said you see different emails. I get so many messages through Instagram, through Twitter and whatnot where people say, Rachel, I want to be exactly like you. I want to have control of my life like you do. And I’m like, That’s adorable. I live in my parents’ basement, but they see me as living a normal life. And it’s like, that’s the goal. I want that. That is my goal. Not that I want to be, you know, the super amazing person who, you know, everybody respects and likes. It’s I just want to have a normal life. And I think that’s something that’s very powerful when you think about just doing simple things, paying your rent every month, buying groceries, taking care of a pet. All of these things can be like major accomplishments. Another very interesting type of peer support that I found when it comes to schizophrenia and this is in China. So I don’t know if we really have this in the US that I could find, but it is whole family support for people with schizophrenia and this was held over three years. The entire family goes to the support group, everybody is there together learning how to accept this, learning how to help the person over three years. What they found out from those families with schizophrenia was that those who participated had high motivation and enthusiasm when it came to dealing with the situations and the support groups actually helped the caregivers.

Rachel Star Withers: They were able to accept their caregiving role and learn how to adjust to basically a new life with this person and for the people with schizophrenia. They had less hospitalizations, even though none of them reported that their symptoms had went down. So what that means is that yeah, as far as my hallucinations, my delusions, my isolation, all of those urges in all of those symptoms were still there. But my family was better able to help me deal and manage those symptoms. That alone, I think, is very, very important. And the fact that it reaches out to caregivers, because many times caregivers don’t realize how important their role is in simple stuff, they think, oh my gosh, my daughter, she has schizophrenia. There’s all these drugs I have to make her the psychiatrist. They’re not thinking about the small stuff. You know, the small things of, oh, my daughter wants to make dinner tonight. How can I help without being condescending? How can I, you know, check on things? And it really can make a big difference in the person with schizophrenia’s life.


Rachel Star Withers: And we’re back talking about the use of peer support in the treatment of schizophrenia.

Gabe Howard: It’s really not surprising to me, Rachel, that that having support for caregivers, family members, people who love somebody with schizophrenia is a good thing. I mean, think about it. We’ve been talking this whole episode about how great peer support is for people with schizophrenia. You can go back and listen to this whole thing again and swap out schizophrenia with loved one, family member, caregiver. It’s equally important for you too. We’ve used the examples of mommy blogs and mommy groups because sometimes moms just want to say, My kid’s a jerk and I hate this, and they don’t want somebody to lecture them. They just want somebody to say, Yeah. Being a mother is really, really hard, right? Give them a high five. Give them a hug. They don’t want advice. They just want somebody to understand what they’re going through.

Gabe Howard: And you want your feelings validated. So often people living with schizophrenia and the people that they know, they’re so isolated. The reality is, is there’s not really good, robust mental health education in this country. So everybody is honestly making this up as they go along. And if they don’t support themselves, if caregivers, family members, the support system of the people living with schizophrenia aren’t caring for themselves, they’re not at their best. Juliet talks about a lot of these these concepts in her interview. So would it be okay if we played her interview now?

Rachel Star Withers: Yes. Let’s just jump right into it.

Rachel Star Withers: Today we’re talking with Juliet Dorris-Williams, who is the executive director of The PEER Center in Columbus, Ohio. She is also an author and host of a podcast. Thank you so much for joining us today, Juliet.

Juliet Dorris-Williams: Thanks for having me.

Rachel Star Withers: Our episode today is all about peer supporters and peer support. And I’ll be honest, I really don’t know that much about them. So can you tell me and our audience what exactly is a peer supporter?

Juliet Dorris-Williams: A peer supporter is a person that has some life experiences that in our world specifically relate to mental health conditions or substance use concerns or other addictions. And it also relates to trauma. Once they get to a certain place of healing and wellness, they use those experiences in a way to walk alongside others who may be having those same lived experiences. So a peer is someone who is equal. Equal in terms of life experiences.

Rachel Star Withers: Amazing.

Juliet Dorris-Williams: Is. It is. It is amazing and magical. I have I have all the words.

Rachel Star Withers: Now this position of a peer supporter. Can anybody be that? Is this like volunteer and I just sign up or do I have to go through training? How would someone become a peer supporter?

Juliet Dorris-Williams: So thank you for asking that question. So how you first started that question off? Can anybody do it? I don’t think so. I

Rachel Star Withers: Yeah.

Juliet Dorris-Williams: Don’t think anybody can be a peer supporter. Even if you have these lived experiences that I talked about, I don’t think anybody can do that because it comes with some other skills, another skill set other than just your life experience. But if you like people and you want to help, and you have some good soft skills, like communication skills, and you’re willing willing to, to do this work, which is, is not easy stuff.

Rachel Star Withers: Most of our listeners like me have schizophrenia. So if I were to walk into The PEER Center today, what would be the process like? You’re just like you assigned me a buddy and we hang out. Like, what would happen?

Juliet Dorris-Williams: So people walk into The PEER Center. And that is actually what we do, someone just walking in because we’re a drop in center. So this happens all day and every day that a new person will walk into our center and we will greet you We will give you a brief overview of what’s happening today. These are groups that are happening today. You’re welcome to participate in any of them. Maybe you would like a cup of coffee or something. So it’s initially it’s about making people comfortable saying something about ourselves. Maybe a little short, super brief story sharing, because 100% of our staff are people with lived experience, mental health conditions. And you decide how much support you want from us that day or how little support you want from us that day. And so you can participate in a group or not. Maybe you want to sit and talk to one of our staff. You can do that. So we do one 1 to 1 support as well.

Rachel Star Withers: Okay. Now, I want to just to make it clear out there, what’s the difference between me sitting down and talking to a peer supporter about what’s going on and me sitting down and talking to a therapist?

Juliet Dorris-Williams: We do not prescribe medication. We do not diagnose people. We we approach our interactions from a human-to-human aspect. There’s some fuzzy lines there between the difference between peer support and counseling. We try to stay in our scope of practice so we do not recommend any sort of treatment. We do not recommend medications. We do not get into those conversations. And if it comes up, because it does come up. The only thing that we can tell people is this is what I do and this is what’s worked for me. And I cannot tell you what you should do.

Rachel Star Withers: Could somebody’s family, friends like people in their support system, are they able to come to The PEER Center with them?

Juliet Dorris-Williams: Sure they absolutely can. In Ohio, where I, where I live, they have recently instituted a peer support certification for caregivers and families. There is a particular need for families to talk to other families. We’re talking about shared lived experiences. Right? There’s a different conversation for family members and caregivers. They’re having a different life experience. And so they can certainly come and obviously support their loved one, that would be ideal, if they support their loved one and bring them into our center because that aids with people’s comfort levels. But there absolutely needs to be space for family members and caregivers to have a shared conversation about their lived experience as being on that side of the equation.

Rachel Star Withers: When it comes to these different programs, is this something that I pay for? Is this a government-type thing? Is this just a nonprofit?

Juliet Dorris-Williams: Well, I’m thinking that you’re going to find peer supporters in in all of the above. All of the above. For our agency, The PEER Center. We are a nonprofit and we do get government funding, local, government funding local. When I say local, I mean county. We also get some state level funding. But as a nonprofit, all of our services are at zero cost to the people who come through for support. So all of our services are free. Our groups, usage of the computer, all of the things that we offer are free of charge to the person coming through the door.

Rachel Star Withers: How do other professionals in the mental health field view peer supporters?

Juliet Dorris-Williams: So that’s, that’s an interesting question, Rachel.

Rachel Star Withers: Because I’ll be honest, I’ve never had a therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist ever mention that to me. In my many, many years of being schizophrenic.

Juliet Dorris-Williams: Yeah. My sense is everyone knows about peer support. That being said, my sense is that it’s more lip service than it is actual consideration of us as a legitimate part of the care continuum. We are the last on the list, if we’re on the list at all. The clinical support is clinical support. What happens with the rest of your life? What happens when you’re trying to grow in your career. What happens if you’re having not a necessarily a mental health or addiction related issue on your job, but how do you negotiate problematic relationships in in in on a job front? How do you if you if you have life goals, you know, how do you manage what I believe is just natural human stress, the natural human stressors that comes with life. That’s not necessarily a clinical issue. That’s called life. And how do we do life outside of the clinical relationship, outside of that context? And so I’m not surprised that your clinicians never mentioned peer support because they don’t think of it in that way. They think of it as a clinical intervention. But it goes beyond that, it’s bigger than that, but I don’t believe that the traditional mental health system sees us in that way.

Rachel Star Withers: And that’s incredible because with mental health, especially schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders, I’m always harping on this podcast and I know Gabe too, about building a support system, building a support network

Juliet Dorris-Williams: Yes.

Rachel Star Withers: That that’s one

Juliet Dorris-Williams: Yes.

Rachel Star Withers: Of the most important things when it comes to, you know, I don’t want to say maintaining like a life, but yeah, but it does because you can’t just say, oh, well, when this person takes medication, everything will be fine. Oh, if this person,

Juliet Dorris-Williams: Right.

Rachel Star Withers: You know, talks to a psychiatrist or psychologist once a month, everything’s going to be fine. Like, there’s so much more that goes into treating a serious mental disorder.

Juliet Dorris-Williams: Absolute more.

Rachel Star Withers: Yes.

Juliet Dorris-Williams: There’s so much more. So, yeah.

Rachel Star Withers: Juliet, how did you first become involved in peer support?

Juliet Dorris-Williams: How I first became involved or came to awareness of peer support was way back in the nineties. So that means I’m dating myself when it wasn’t even called peer support. Peer support is the new sexy term for what’s been called self-help. Self-help groups. It’s been around forever. It’s not new at all. It’s just now in terms of what we reference it. So it was called self-help. That’s how I happened upon it. I mentioned that I’m a survivor of trauma, domestic violence and sexual assault. And in the context of me trying to figure out what’s going on with me and what and how do I navigate through these life circumstances that I found myself in? I just happened upon an organization in Indianapolis, Indiana, called Breaking Free.

Juliet Dorris-Williams: So I randomly showed up at a support group. A free support group in the basement of a hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana. That’s my hometown, and sat around a table with other women with the same lived experience. They talked. I listened. It was very uncomfortable. So but they were super nice. And I went home and told my best friend about it and was like, I don’t think this is for me. And I’ve told her this that she’s she literally saved my life with what she said to me next was you. She said I read this article that said, if you’re going to go to a support group, you kind of have to go like six times before you really know if it’s going to help you or not. I’m like, OK, all right, okay, I’ll try it again. And all it took was the second time, for me to understand and get it that this was a lifeline and it literally was a lifeline. And so I was I participated in a self-help group and a few months later, I actually became the facilitator of that group. But peer support, before it was called peer support, came to my awareness because I was a person in need of support. And in the company of those women. I found help and healing and hope. And it is it was completely life changing.

Rachel Star Withers: Wow. That’s amazing. And Juliet, how can our listeners learn more about The PEER Center in Columbus, Ohio, and how can they learn more about you?

Juliet Dorris-Williams: They can actually put in their little browser window, P E E R. And then they can get to our website and they can find out about our mission and see our calendar of activities and our blog and, and all of that. As for me, they can go to my website which is And if they want to listen to my podcast, wherever their podcasts are found, it’s Finding Faith with Juliet Dorris-Williams. They can find my books, both books actually, at the Web site. I’ve written two books. The first one was called Notes to My 25-year-old Self. It talks a little bit about some of the things that I’ve shared with you today. The second book is Leaving Church, Finding Faith: Six Steps to Discovering Your Purpose in the World After Leaving the Christian Church. So that actually tells you what my podcast is about as well.

Rachel Star Withers: Well, very cool. Thank you so much for being with us here today, sharing with us your knowledge about this area of the mental health field that is overlooked.

Juliet Dorris-Williams: Thank you, Rachel.

Gabe Howard: Juliet did a really good job. Usually I say you did a really good job, Rachel, but as you said, Juliet is my bestie, so I got to give her props first. But now that you’ve done the research, now that we’ve discussed this and now that you talked to Julie, what are your thoughts now after after this journey?

Rachel Star Withers: Honestly, I’m very jealous that you’re near the peer support center. And I’m not that that one that hers exists near you because I was listening to her and thinking, wow, that sounds really cool, you know, and just how many times, especially since COVID I’ve isolated and even if I didn’t want to isolate, I had nowhere to go. I am like, okay, I’ll take a walk. Oh, because so much stuff had closed. How am I supposed to socialize when now my part time job ceases to exist? The gyms are closed. The classes that I used to take don’t exist anymore. Like, how am I supposed to do these things that are part of my treatment plan? And as she was talking, I think that’d be amazing if I could just go and say, okay, my goal is to interact with people for one hour. And be able to just go there and do that because I think that’s been very hard for me to do. And if you’re out there and you’re thinking, well, that seems easy, Rachel, interact with people for an hour. Come on. But no, I isolate and I’m not very good at that. Outside of like my family members, I don’t many times have any way of OK, how do I talk to people today without just like walking out and like finding a person on the street and being like, Hey, come here.

Gabe Howard: The last episode that we did talked all about add-on treatment, add-on therapies for schizophrenia. And I believe that we did a really good job of explaining that you don’t remove a single other therapy when you add these on. Peer support is a big one. It’s a big add-on therapy.

Rachel Star Withers: Peer support can be an amazing thing to add to your treatment plan. It can also be an amazing thing for you to become a part of. One type of peer support we haven’t mentioned yet is just called sharing stories and it’s a way to connect with other people and inspire others who might be going through the same things that you have. And let me stress that when I say sharing stories, you don’t have to have a dramatic story. I know a lot of people are like, well, you know, you had Bethany on the show and she overcame homelessness with schizophrenia and you had Lloyd who had been in prison. You know, I don’t have a very interesting story, but remember, sometimes just being able to get up, interact with people and live your life is a very inspiring story to a lot of people. Sometimes if you’re able to tell them, yes, I actually go grocery shopping by myself, that can be inspiring to someone who is like, You know what, I’m in the middle of a crisis and I can’t think straight. So if you’re out there, understand that your successes can be inspiring to people. I remember once going to a sub shop and I forgot how to order a sub. And if you’re like, Well, how would you forget how to order food? Especially very easy food?

Rachel Star Withers: And I forgot. And I freaked out and I ended up having to leave. So if you were to be like, Oh, yeah, Rachel, You know, here’s with schizophrenia. I’ve had a similar experience and this is one of my coping techniques that would have meant so much to me at that time because I felt like such a loser. I felt like, Oh, my gosh, Rachel, that’s pathetic of you. Like, how how worse can you get? ?So, any small success in your life can make a huge difference in other people. If what I’m saying resonates with you and you want to be a part of that, there is a way you can share your story. If you go over to and it’s the number 2, This is through the National Empowerment Center and they have a section where you can post your own stories and parts of your recovery from schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders. So, I highly suggest, even if you just want to go over there and check out some of the stories that other people have submitted.

Rachel Star Withers: When we talk about living with schizophrenia, so many people think of recovery as, okay, I’ll be better and not have schizophrenia. And that’s not what recovery is. It’s just learning to live life with schizophrenia. And anything that helps you do that, anything that you can add to your recovery plan, to your treatment plan, is a step in the right direction. And sometimes just hearing it from other people is enough to help you keep going. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Inside Schizophrenia. Please like share, subscribe and rate our podcast and we’ll see you next time here on Inside Schizophrenia, a Healthline media podcast.

Announcer: You’ve been listening to Inside Schizophrenia, a podcast from Psych Central and Healthline Media. Previous episodes can be found at or on your favorite podcast player. Your host, Rachel Star Withers, can be found online at Co-host Gabe Howard can be found online at Thank you and we’ll see you next time.