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Consumer providers (CPs) are individuals with serious mental illness who are trained to use their experiences to provide recovery-oriented services and support to others. There are several demonstrated benefits to employing CPs: They can serve as role models, voice and broker the needs of consumers, provide information and motivation, and mentor others (including potential CPs). CPs can have a variety of roles, including, among other things, assisting clients, providing support services (such as skills assistance and transportation), providing liaison services, dispelling possible stigma or bias toward clients, and augmenting overburdened mental health systems. Despite these roles and benefits, there are also challenges to and misconceptions about employing CPs, such as staff concerns, organizational issues, and perceived barriers related to the abilities and competence of CPs. As mental health providers turn to CPs to augment current services, it is useful to review these issues through the lens of hiring and integrating CPs into provider teams. This guide is intended to be an easy-to-use reference for agencies that are seeking to strengthen or expand consumer involvement, employers who are considering hiring CPs, consumers who are interested in applying for CP positions, and advocates for CP involvement in mental health care. The information and recommendations presented here are the result of interviews with relevant stakeholders at Lamp Community, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit serving the mental health needs of the homeless and formerly homeless; interviews with national experts; and a review of current literature on the subject.

This work was cosponsored by the UCLA/RAND NIMH Center for Research on Quality in Managed Care and the VA Desert Pacific MIRECC. The research was conducted by RAND Health, a division of the RAND Corporation.

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