Study day 2022


Does lived experience engender skills?

Mutual aid and peer support

On-line Study Day, January 21, 2022

Today, many people are convinced there is a direct causal link between lived experience and the skills required to support one’s peers. Experience should lead to knowledge and skills. However, nothing has been proven in this respect, no more than the opposite. It is clear that a wide variety of effects are produced by people declaring themselves as “peers”. Through their support, some of them enable others to regain footing in their lives; whereas others diminish support for the group solely by their presence.

What makes it possible to know how to act in an appropriate and useful way towards one’s peers? Is lived experience alone sufficient to bring out the abilities or not? Surveys have shown that some individuals who have experienced major challenges in life are especially competent at supporting their peers. It’s possible to be competent without being a professional, or even a volunteer. Some individuals have been able to develop their skills in supporting their peers because of training that has allowed them to build on their lived experience. It also happens, infrequently, that trained and qualified individuals are not competent at supporting their peers.

In other words, there is no direct causal link between lived experience and the ability to support peers, but lived experience is essential for establishing a peer-to-peer relationship. Two questions therefore arise:

  • How does lived experience contribute to forging an ability to support one’s peers?
  • Since life experience is not enough, what other qualities, skills and attitudes are needed to support one’s peers?

The gradual institutionalization of peer support practices and their scope of action does not in practice resolve this question of the link between lived experience and skills. Institutionalization through public action in France has indeed several facets. Many scenarios are adopted without this question of the link between competency to support one’s peers and lived experience being truly investigated, understood, or even scientifically proven. Some sectors and some institutions frankly prefer lived experience, while others favor brief training more, and still others value a university degree following training and a practical internship.

For example, since 2017, the roll-out of Housing First [1] promotes the recruitment of a peer in each intervention team. For the Housing First policy, the conditions for qualifying required by a 2016 decree are experience using mental health services and certification of at least level III, in other words a Baccalaureate degree + 2 years, and, failing that, validation of what has been acquired from experience (VAE) within 5 years of taking up the position. This second option of VAE is commonly used and therefore leads to recruiting based mainly on lived experience.

Following the work of a collaborative group coordinated by the Interministerial Disability Committee (CIH) during the 2019-20 period, a peer intervener training course is now being developed on a national level. Lasting 4 to 5 days and currently addressing people with disabilities, this training aims to identify and consolidate acquired experiential knowledge, to acquire a base of knowledge on the political and administrative organization of the field, and to integrate methods of peer intervention. In this case, priority is given to a very short training program that complements lived experience.

The implementation of the professional license for Health-Peer Mediator (MSP) [2] and the university diploma (DU) Peer supporter [3] mark the firm choice of some actors in the field of mental health to qualify through a training course of several weeks and a practical internship. The selection for entry into these courses is important because of the limited number of places for a large number of candidates. In addition, genuine theoretical and practical work and the creation of a professional attitude are expected. This option is clearly one of professionalization, well beyond lived experience alone.

Finally, let us point out the case of the AQRP [4] in Quebec, which has been developing training for peers since 2006 along with training for employers and mental health teams. Peer training includes two weeks on site and a 42-hour internship. Even before selection, the person must meet a certain number of criteria, including: having lived or living with a mental health problem, being ready to reveal their lived experience in connection with their mental disorder and their recovery, having been invested in their recovery for at least two years, skills in helping relationships, relevant experience in work or involvement, good spoken and written French, a high school diploma or its equivalent. In this example, while the training and internship are brief, the pre-selection and selection are more demanding than is usual in France. In addition, the person and their employer are given support after starting the job. Lived experience is an important criterion, but remains one criterion among others.

While competency is the thorough and recognized knowledge of a field – conferring on the individual holder the right to judge or decide in certain matters – this competency is always limited and circumscribed. The attitudes and skills acquired in the course of experience do not confer omniscience. If people are holders of experiential knowledge, in which areas are they competent, since everyone is commonly the holder of experiential knowledge? Are there competencies that cut across different types of experience? Does the experience of supporting one’s peers enable the production of knowledge and skills? Under what conditions does the experience of supporting peers within a multi-professional team allow the development of peer-to-peer relationships?

This study day is not intended to evaluate or judge recruitment criteria, or the choices made by sectors, institutions or employers. This scientific event aims to understand, produce knowledge, and shed light on the link between lived experience and the ability to support one’s peers.

  1. Poster of Study Day 2022
  2. Presentation of the Study Day 2022
  3. Link to the Web site for the 2022 Study Day

[1] Public action carried out by the DIHAL

[2] Bachelor’s degree in health and social sciences, Health and Peer Mediators course, Sorbonne Paris Nord University

[3] Pair-Aidance University Diploma in Mental Health, Lyon 1 University

[4] AQRP : Quebec Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation

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