Practicing Cultural Humility: Lived Experience is Expertise

In most areas, having gone through something repeatedly before allows you to speak with some degree of expertise, such as having completed a race, or traveled to a certain city, or having done certain tasks at work.

Why is it that while in many areas of life, having gone through an experience or repeated a task many times gives one some degree of competence on an issue, but when it comes to mental health and going through treatment and recovery, having experience doesn’t equate to expertise? Because of the stigma attached to mental illness, people with mental health challenges are often dismissed, minimized, or not believed when they share their experiences and knowledge. It’s time to reframe lived experience as expertise. People with lived experience understand the challenges of navigating services, receiving treatment, and living with mental health issues better than anyone. As community leaders and service providers, we have the opportunity to tap into this expertise, to learn from the ones who truly know what mental health issues are like and what can help.

Author, Christopher Emdin, shares similar thoughts of this approach and applies it to the teacher-student relationship: “I think framing this hero teacher narrative, particularly for folks who are not from these communities, is problematic. The model of a hero going to save this savage other is a piece of a narrative that we can trace back to colonialism; it isn’t just relegated to teaching and learning.”

At a more interpersonal level, we can open our ears to create space for people with lived experience by shifting our personal lenses from ‘helping’ to ‘partnering’, as it will create space for those with lived experience to step forward.

This post is co-written by Mai Le and Siavash Zohoori.