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“Like Having a New Life”

Posted on June 22, 2022 in Peer Support

Peer Support Specialists Help Others Struggling with Addiction and Mental Disorders

Ricki with her family.
Ricki and Michael McColllum with her children: Coda, Nathaniel and Alexander.

Ricki McCollum never intended to become a licensed counselor. But the long road that led to her own recovery also offered her an opportunity to help others on their journeys to finding peace from addiction and mental distress. McCollum is a licensed CPRS, or Certified Peer Recovery Specialist . These trained specialists have what’s called “lived experience” with their own recovery and can often connect to those currently battling addiction, substance use or mental health issues. “It’s exhilarating to work with my clients,” she says. “It gives me a sense that I’m doing the right thing, and hope that I may be able to help someone else.”

The Long and Winding Road

McCollum struggled with her own recovery journey for more than a decade before she was able to rebuild her life with the help of others. She recently celebrated a meaningful  milestone of three years sober, and was granted custody of her three children. McCollum now owns her house, has married a supportive partner and created a loving home for her family. Through
her in-person and virtual work at mental and behavioral health facilities, she helps clients who are  struggling with their own recovery journeys.

Ellion Mangel, LCSW, is an outpatient therapist at Peninsula Lighthouse who worked with McCollum as a patient when she sought counseling. “Ricki is a remarkable human being,” says Mangel. “She was faced with difficult life circumstances and has pulled herself out of those circumstances, which is so inspiring. Mental health issues impact all of us and we all need support
through the phases that we experience.”

Headshot of social worker.
Ellion Mangel, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Value of Peer Support

McCollum says, “Being a peer is being able to connect someone with resources while they are an inpatient, when they don’t have anyone else. When you are admitted into a facility, you don’t need to focus on the outside world. You need to focus on yourself and getting better. By helping set up appointments for after their stay or getting medications
worked out, we are able to set patients up for success after discharge and make them more likely to have a successful outcome than if they didn’t have that resource.” She adds, “Recovery is like having a new life, because in recovery, many times a lot of us are searching to get our life back. “But that life wasn’t working for me McCollum says. “I was able to build a new life and start over. You have to take all the coping skills and everything you learn, and make healthy decisions.” “Sometimes it can feel easier to talk to a peer instead of a therapist,” explains Mangel. “Peer Support Specialists can share their lived experience and that can allow for  opportunities for positive connection.”

“Advocating is helping another person stand in their own light,” Mangel continues. “In social work, one of our ethical standards is self- determination, the individual’s right to make
their own decisions. Sometimes all we can control in a situation is how we choose to respond to what happens” Mangel says.

“It Feels Amazing”

McCollum says her kids keep her going every day. “I have this renewed motivation to live this life and be there for my kids. At first, I had to do it for me. Now, they keep me and it feels amazing.”

Help is Available through Peer Support and Other Peninsula Resources

Individuals who need extra support while undergoing inpatient or outpatient treatment for substance use disorders or mental health disorders may find help by talking to a Peer Support
Specialist. In addition to peer support, other Peninsula resources include individual and group therapy, medicat ion management, outreach specialist services, plus more intensive group
sessions. In these sessions, clients can talk about different stages of recovery and wellness in a safe space and practice the coping skills they are learning.

Peer support programs are offered free of charge, with many sessions offered virtually. To learn more, visit

About Peninsula

Peninsula offers inpatient and outpatient services for children, adolescents and adults. In addition to a hospital in Blount County and outpatient services in Blount, Knox, Loudon and Sevier
Counties, Peninsula provides specialized care through the Senior Behavioral Center located at Parkwest Medical Center. The variety of inpatient and outpatient services helps Peninsula meet community needs and enrich the lives of every patient. Highly trained and certified staff have a strong commitment to caring, high-quality programs and service.