Peer Self-Advocacy in Action!

Robyn Gantsweg, Rosy Tellez, and Maria Garcia

The Peer Self-Advocacy Program (PSA) at Disability Rights California provides evidence-based peer self-advocacy services to people with lived experience in locked psychiatric facilities, state hospitals and in the community. PSA staff are people with mental health disabilities, or peers, who share common experiences with the people they serve. The PSA program is unique because it provides services “by peers, for peers.” This exemplifies the Peer Movement’s philosophy of “Nothing about us, without us.”

With this foundation of shared understanding and mutual respect, the PSA empowers peers with the knowledge and skills to exercise their right to personal autonomy, self-determination and individual choice. PSA staff educate peers about their legal rights, such as understanding psychiatric holds, conservatorship and informed consent from a peer perspective. Participants in PSA self-advocacy groups learn and develop self-advocacy skills that to advocate for their own needs and rights to services. These include challenging their conservatorship, actively participating in their own treatment and discharge planning, and advocating for their right to live independently in the community. The PSA program recognizes and values the unique needs and perspectives of each peer, respecting their diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences by customizing our teaching methods, training materials and providing our services in many languages. We encourage, model and motivate peers to advocate for their “expressed wishes” rather than resign themselves to the “best interests” as determined by others. We also educate and impart these values and this approach upon service providers, advocates, family and community members who help and support our peers.

Workshop participants will learn:

  • PSA’s History: Purpose, Philosophy and Goals
  • PSA’s Uniqueness: The Difference between Direct Advocacy and Self-Advocacy
  • PSA’s Strategic Approach
  • Empowering Diverse Communities
  • Success Stories

We look forward to the opportunity to participate in the NARPA Annual Rights Conference to continue our mission to educate peers, providers and advocates about autonomy, choice and self-determination. The Peer Self-Advocacy Program inspires and galvanizes peers and their supporters to advocate for the legal rights of people with mental health disabilities. This is truly Self-Advocacy in Action!