Background Providing culturally competent and person-centered care is at the forefront of changing practices in behavioral health. Significant health disparities remain between people of color and whites in terms of care received in the mental health system. Peer services, or support provided by others who have experience in the behavioral health system, is a promising new avenue for helping those with behavioral health concerns move forward in their lives. Purpose We describe a model of peer-based culturally competent person-centered care and treatment planning, informed by longstanding research on recovery from serious mental illness used in a randomized clinical trial conducted at two community mental health centers. Methods Participants all were Latino or African American with a current or past diagnosis within the psychotic disorders spectrum as this population is often underserved with limited access to culturally responsive, person-centered services. Study interventions were carried out in both an English-speaking and a Spanish-speaking outpatient program at each study center. Interventions included connecting individuals to their communities of choice and providing assistance in preparing for treatment planning meetings, all delivered by peer-service providers. Three points of evaluation, at baseline, 6 and 18 months, explored the impact of the interventions on areas such as community engagement, satisfaction with treatment, symptom distress, ethnic identity, personal empowerment, and quality of life. Conclusions Lessons learned from implementation include making cultural modifications, the need for a longer engagement period with participants, and the tension between maintaining strict interventions while addressing the individual needs of participants in line with person-centered principles. The study is one of the first to rigorously test peer-supported interventions in implementing person-centered care within the context of public mental health systems.
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