I avoid identifying myself as an ‘expert by experience’ – a common label nowadays for mental health service users which I question. If I was to be called an ‘expert by experience’, what exactly would I be an expert on? On compulsory hospitalisation (sectioning) and how it can destroy one’s confidence perhaps?
But having had an experience of sectioning (my own experience) does not necessarily make me an expert on detention. It just means that I have lived through detention and I have the experiential/embodied knowledge that stems from that, so when I talk about detention it is not just on a cognitive/academic/theoretical level using knowledge that I have acquired from books, but on an affective, visceral, deeper level as well. Does this make me an expert? I am not sure…
Or would I be an expert on madness? But how can one be an expert on madness if madness is something that cannot be known and understood in its entirety, something that cannot be easily articulated? And are we not all experts through our experiences? if so, why would we need the presumed epistemological privilege of being a mental health service user to claim such expertise?
Furthermore, raw experience (embodied, affective/emotional experience) would not in my view be automatically translated into knowledge and expertise…I think raw emotional experience needs to be processed and detoxified and reflected upon in order to become available to thought, in order to become knowledge… so, experience does not equal expertise…
On the other hand, I do recognise and value the collective experiential knowledge and expertise that emerges from the psychiatric survivor movement – but I would not call myself ‘an expert by experience’.
Finally, apart from ‘experts by experience’ mental health service users often identify themselves as ‘Service User Experts’ and ‘Expert Patient Trainers’, in which case professionalised lay experts appear to use their mental health crisis/mental breakdown as a qualification; this is something I vehemently object to doing myself.
(From email communication with an academic in USA)