By D&M Consultants
“Lived experience practitioners are the logical leaders of recovery implementation due to their own internal experience and understandings of recovery…” (Byrne et al., 2016, p. 935)
Despite an abundance of research evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of workers with lived experience in the fields of mental health, addiction and disability, there remain important gaps in the workforce. Specifically, what is lacking are leadership roles for addiction practitioners (Byrne et al., 2016). ‘Peer support’ is a growing segment of the addiction treatment sector however, there is a lack of integration of lived experience perspectives in the design, implementation and evaluation of drug and alcohol treatment services (Byrne et al., 2018).
At D&M Consultants we have over 27 years of lived experience in recovery from addiction. This experience has informed our creation of a holistic approach to change, one that is orientated to living beyond an identity as an ‘addict’, one founded on values-based living.
At D&M however, we are not just ‘peer support’, our practice framework embodies our lived experience as well as academic credentials and professional training in social work and psychotherapy. We understand the value of one addict helping another and firmly believe working with other people recovering from addiction has been fundamental in maintaining our own recoveries for many years.
We also have expertise in the evidence on ‘what works’ in addiction recovery. This means we bring a unique perspective to the development and implementation of our recovery programs. In this blog we discuss what recovery is and the value of ‘lived experience’ in addiction treatment and recovery.
The concept of ‘recovery’ is not new, it emerged in the field of mental health as an approach to the management of long-term psychiatric conditions. More recently recovery has been reconceptualised as a hopeful personal identity and individual journey beyond the constraints and stigma of a diagnosis (Best & Lubman, 2012).
In summary, there are two key definitions of ‘recovery’:
1. Clinician based approach – deficit-based approach, often found in primary health care settings – otherwise known as a ‘medical’ approach. The focus within the medical system is predominately concerned with symptom reduction.
2. Lived experience definition – recovery is viewed as a ‘journey’ with the aim of enhancing the individual’s quality of life so that the person may transform to become a productive member of society. This recovery paradigm is based on redemptive hope and a life of meaning as defined by the individual (Byrne et al, 2016).
The benefits of lived experience
Research has suggested 3 key ways that lived experience is valuable in addiction recovery work:
- For individuals experiencing addiction, working with someone in recovery can be empowering. The recovering addict offers ‘mutuality’ and support in a non-discriminatory manner (Byrne et al, 2018).
- The lived experience of the practitioner can support individuals in recovery to navigate various services while providing genuine empathy. The practitioner is a role model and an example of hope for future change (Ahmed et al., 2015; Byrne et al., 2018)
- Research has demonstrated the important role of people with lived experience in challenging stigma and discrimination (Corrigan et al., 2013). This movement is often referred to as being ‘out and proud’ – taking ownership of addiction issues may inspire others to do the same.
Other research has noted the relatively low status of peer workers in the addiction treatment sector, they are quite often lowly paid, experience stigma and discrimination and their lived experience is co-opted by those in leadership positions (Ahmed et al., 2015; Chapman et al., 2019).
Our (D&M) recovery and lived experiences are inextricably intertwined; we are the ‘experts’ of our respective recovery journeys. We have both experienced subtle and not so subtle paternalism by clinicians and others involved in the health system whose ‘expertise’ can be leveraged to diminish our agency and the ‘truth’ of our experience.
What we are offering is an integration of professional training and lived experience in recovery that gives us a unique opportunity to create an innovative practice framework. How? Through a process we call ‘Reframing’.
Reframing our stories
Much of the recovery work we have personally done has consisted of ‘reframing’ our personal identities through changing the ‘narrative’ or story of our individual journeys. By taking a holistic view, that is taking into account our whole lives (the personal, social, physical and spiritual) we were able to deconstruct what led us to our ‘rock bottom’ and then rebuild from the wreckage our lives had become.
The narrative we employ is redemptive, structured along the lines of the classic literary device ‘the hero/heroine’s journey’. Redemptive narratives are stories of challenge, failure, or adversity that lead to personal growth; the heroines (in our case) brings back a gift (wisdom, insight, a meaningful life). Our gift is the work we do at D&M.
We have created a redemptive process that consists of three stages:
- First, we work with each client to uncover the ‘truth’ of a person’s life, that is, what brought you here, what are your troubles and wounds? What happened to you? We can’t change or heal what we don’t acknowledge so uncover is the first module of our ‘Reframe’ program.
- Second, we discover – we walk alongside clients as they find out who they really are. What are you thinking, feeling and doing that keeps you stuck in self-destructive cycles? Clients find out they are not the sum total of the worst thing we have ever done. Each person has a set of values and aspirations for living that have been obscured by pain and dysfunction.
- Third we recover – we work gently with clients to restore hope and a new identity. We do this by integrating their life experiences into an internalised, evolving story of the self that provides them with a sense of unity and purpose in life.
We have both walked this path and have created a way for others to do the same that honours individuality, personal goals and aspirations.
How can we support you in your journey of recovery?
D&M Consultants provide a non-judgmental space where we meet you where you are at in your recovery journey. Even if you do not feel ready to commit to change, we can offer support and motivation. We understand the ambivalence and the inner struggle that occurs when we want change but cannot see how we can change.
Our lived experience of addiction and recovery means we have been where you are, we have walked in your shoes. If you want to know more about how we can support you, or someone you know, please contact us.
Ahmed, A. O., Hunter, K. M., Mabe, A. P., Tucker, S. J., & Buckley, P. F. (2015). The professional experiences of peer specialists in the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network. Community mental health journal, 51(4), 424-436. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10597-015-9854-8
Best, D., & Lubman, D. (2012, 8/01). The recovery paradigm A model of hope and change for alcohol and drug addiction. Australian Family Physician, 41, 593-597. http://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2012/august/the-recovery-paradigm/
Byrne, L., Happell, B., & Reid-Searl, K. (2016). Recovery as a lived experience discipline: A grounded theory study. Issues in mental health nursing, 36, 935-943. https://doi.org/10.3109/01612840.2015.1076548
Byrne, L., Stratford, A., & Davidson, L. (2018). The global need for lived experience leadership. Psychiatric rehabilitation journal, 41(1), 76-79. https://doi.org/10.1037/prj0000289
Chapman, J., Roche, A. M., Kostadinov, V., Duraisingam, V., & Hodge, S. (2019, 2020/03/01). Lived experience: Characteristics of workers in alcohol and other drug nongovernment organizations. Contemporary Drug Problems, 47(1), 63-77. https://doi.org/10.1177/0091450919894341
Corrigan, P. W., Kosyluk, K. A., & RÜSch, N. (2013). Reducing self-stigma by coming out proud. American Journal of Public Health, 103(5), 794-800. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2012.301037