Last Friday, National SMART Coordinator Dan Raffell (who some of you may recognise as the Scottish bloke with fantastic hair) oversaw our first National Peer Workshop, generously sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of Australia. Peer facilitators from all over the country flew in to our gleaming head office in Sydney to chat about SMART, weekly meetings, and their own experiences as both peers and facilitators.

Peers are the cornerstone of SMART’s presence in Australia. Our research base is valuable and helps us with access to funding and organisations, and of course our trainers make the creation of meetings possible, but it’s our peer facilitators who enable new attendees to feel comfortable, supported, and valued when they attend meetings. Every day I speak to participants at the very beginning of their recovery. They might be fresh out of detox or rehab, or sitting at home reconsidering their actions, feeling vulnerable and alone. The reassurance that, at their SMART meeting, there will be an experienced facilitator who not only knows CBT and motivational interviewing techniques, but understands intimately exactly how each participant feels cannot be overstated. Whatever the addictive behaviour a person is trying to amend, and whatever their plan of action is, working with a peer gives participants real, concrete evidence that recovery is not only possible, but that their recovery could one day allow them to help others on their journey.

Our peers got to the venue at about nine in the morning. Bleary-eyed, they got to know each other over cups of tea and coffee, sharing their stories and experiences. Over the course of the day, peers from all over Australia were introduced to a wealth of big-picture information about SMART Recovery Australia’s long-term plans, including ongoing research, program development, and the results of our annual survey. With plenty of breaks for refreshment – including what I’m assured was a delicious bacon and egg roll with a black bun straight out of Dante’s Inferno – our peers contributed valuable experiences from running meetings, and made suggestions for improvement.

Dan, using all his formidable charm, managed to wrangle some incredible guest speakers for the day. Dr Bill “Mister Motivational Interviewing” Miller called in a Skype Q&A to discuss his decades of experience in refining Motivational Interviewing techniques, while Dr Sarah Edelman, PhD gave a riveting talk on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Leigh Proctor phoned all the way from the UK to update us on the goings on of our antipodean SMART colleagues. If the pedigree of these speakers intimidated our very own peer presenters, they certainly didn’t show it, and Hugh Kilpatrick and Rachel McLaughlin delivered informative, engaging presentations. Forward-thinking Hugh runs Australia’s first online SMART meeting, while Rachel’s infectious enthusiasm has earned her a notorious reputation among Victoria’s various government funding bodies.

As the sun set over the Sydney skyline, the throng of exhausted peers moved to Bar Reggio to enjoy dinner and conversation about what they had learned and what they were planning for the future. Our express aim with running the Peer Workshop was to empower and support our peer facilitators. Hopefully, by bringing everyone together, we were able to refine and polish our peer facilitators’ skills in running SMART Recovery Australia meetings. This was a valuable early step in our long-term goal to establish a national network of peers, all working in unison to champion SMART Recovery Australia and help vulnerable people work through their problem behaviours.

Liam – SMART Office Coordinator