Experts by Experience program
For people recovering from mental health and/or substance abuse challenges or other kind of life crisis
Mielen NGO has developed its experts by experience program since 2001 among pioneers in Finland.
An expert by experience is a person who has lived experience on mental health and/or substance abuse challenges or other kinds of life crisis. Experience-based knowledge is needed for developing services, changing attitudes and creating an understanding of challenges which people meet during their lifespan.
The aims of our program are enhancing recovery, anti-stigmatisation, service user involvement, and effectiveness of mental health services. We educate people with mental health or/and substance abuse challenges to work as experts by experience on various tasks: participate in mental health services as experts of recovery, as lived experience lecturers in different educational institutions, and as representatives of service users in development workgroups. The experts are paid reasonable fees by client organisations.
Essential elements of the program
EDUCATION: to become a certified expert by experience one needs both theoretical education and training.
Being able to reform and to tell one’s own personal life story are of utmost importance, as well as creating meaningful personal narratives.
Educators are staff members, some of which are experts by experience themselves. Education is also about getting familiar with the various tasks of experts by experience, and their requirements.
PROCESS: The eight-month education process comprises about 100 hours of education. A sufficient time allows a person to gain new meaning in life, to evaluate the pros and cons of the services and professional help she/he may have received. During the process, mental well-being of the participants is monitored by questionnaires (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale, WEMWBS).
PEER SUPPORT: Hearing and sharing experiences and life stories is essential for gaining insight into one’s own life. Participants encourage each other to take steps towards their goals.
PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT: The experts by experience are not left on their own after the education process. We arrange placements and interesting tasks for experts by experience. Our staff is easy to contact and we also provide personal mentoring as well as support and guidance in groups.
TASKS: Participants get opportunities to work as experts by experience in various tasks: they participate in mental health services as experts of recovery, as lived experience lecturers in different educational institutions, and as representatives of service users in development workgroups. The experts are paid reasonable fees by client organisations.
NETWORK: The experts by experience themselves are the most important network in developing the program. Also, contacts with other organisations and mental health services are essential to promote co-production and to create working opportunities for experts by experience. We are happy to share our knowledge about the program to those interested in promoting expertise by lived experience.
Impact study (2016–2017) focused on questions of relevance, efficiency and effectiveness
Almost 80 % of experts by experience reported that participating in the program has significantly affected their personal recovery. 86 % of the professionals in client organisations providing mental health services reported that meeting experts by experience has had a positive impact for their customers.
Conclusion: The more the experts by experience meet mental health service customers, the more effective the program is.
The study also pointed out economic benefits of the activity and the contribution of experts by experience, which serves as a highly preventive measure. Investing in a program of this kind is very cost-effective compared to the cost of mental health treatment.