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Who is Qualified to Give Mental Health Advice?

I saw a post recently where someone in the mental health field listed all of their credentials, accreditations and accolades and explained how these are undermined by untrained, unqualified people who claim to be mental health experts or coaches.

I immediately felt attacked. I took it personally and started feeling defensive - like I had to justify my entire career. The truth is, I am very clear in all my communication, my website, my contracts, my introductions… that I am not a therapist or a clinician. I don’t claim to have any credentials I don’t have. I know the scope and capacity of my work and I remain within those boundaries.

I am a peer supporter with added background, training and education in the mental health field. My lived experience is what makes my approach unique and allows me to truly connect with people, and I have training that helps me support them through certain things. I do not claim to be able to carry out therapy for my clients, to be able to unpack trauma or to diagnose, or treat diagnoses. My work is more about empathetic support, validation, concrete skills and tools to manage emotions, and accountability. That’s what I offer.

Coming back to this post, I then started unpacking what I was feeling and realize it was touching a nerve because I struggle with impostor syndrome. I struggle with a lack of confidence, with self-doubt and often undermining myself or selling myself short because I don’t have a PhD in clinical psychology. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are different lanes in the mental health realm. There is a place for therapists and clinicians. In fact, I very often encourage my clients to see a therapist in addition to the support I offer in my 1:1 work. There is also a place for peer support and for support that is informed by lived experience.

The woman who made that post seemed to be threatened by this. None of what I do undermines her credentials or her hard work. None of what I do discredits her and none of what I do is in competition with her services.

I also started thinking about how inaccessible academia can be and how that is in part gatekeeping the field of mental health support. Many groups are underprivileged when it comes to access to post-secondary education, and even then, the education provided at many of these institutions is rooted in colonial ideas, white supremacy and does not adequately foster mental health education and support as it pertains to marginalized groups.

Throughout prehistory and history, human beings have displayed a few evolutionary constants. Our deep and visceral need for connection with one another is one of them. Story telling is another.

These two elements have been, in the past, crucial to mental well-being and how humans were supported by their community. Before psychology and psychiatry became discipline, science, people received support from elders, from those who had lived things and could now guide them with their wisdom. People received support from those who felt similarly to them and had learned to manage these challenges. It was much more organic.

There is still room for this kind of support in the realm of mental health. That being said, there are people out there who claim to offer this kind of help but actually do harm. Nothing about that is OK. I would caution you to do a bit of research (in any case) before you start following advice from just anyone. For example, TikTok is full of self-diagnosed mental health “experts” who promote disordered behaviours and seem to find their identity in this so-called diagnosis.

That however, is a conversation for another blog post.

The point is, my work does not discredit that of psychologists. My work is not even in the same lane as that of psychologists. No one is debating your PhD’s value. No one is undermining your hard work and dedication. I have worked hard and been dedicated as well, and now have tools and knowledge to share. I’m very lucky that I can used my lived experience to help others and I will keep believing in that.

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"There is also a place for peer support and for support that is informed by lived experience." As a fellow peer support worker with imposter syndrome (LOL), I applaud this post!!! Love your work!

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