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Patient Expertise Should Bring Mental Healcare to New Level

March 30, 2017

Trimbos researcher and patient-expert Wilma Boevink wrote her thesis On Recovery, Empowerment and Experiential Expertise in Psychiatric Care (‘Over herstel, empowerment en ervaringsdeskundigheid in de psychiatrie’). Mental Health Services cannot ignore it anymore: people suffering from severe, long-term mental distress have expertise.

Based on her own experiences as a mental healthcare client, in conjunction with scientific research and experiential knowledge or “collective” knowledge built within the psychiatric user movement, Boevink argues that the knowledge of “psychiatric patients” themselves is indispensable to bring mental healthcare to a new level.

Wilma Boevink will receive her degree April 13 at the Maastricht University.

People who battle mental problems and become psychiatric patients gain important experiences. They experience for themselves what it is like to want to live a good life while being burdened with severe mental suffering. Better than anyone else they can experience what helps and what does not. They learn to deal with reactions in society as well as in mental healthcare towards this mental suffering. People often stigmatize and label them as “sick” or having “deviant behavior”. They also experience what it takes to replace resulting guilt and shame with hope and confidence. All these experiences form a potential source of a new type of knowledge and expertise development within society, mental healthcare services and science: experiential knowledge and expertise.

Boevink presents in her thesis experiential expert analyses of: the relationship between trauma and psychoses, growing beyond a psychiatric diagnosis, and patient identity after long-term treatment in an institution. She combines this with a conceptual exploration of empowerment, with developing a measuring tool, and with a survey on the effects of a recovery program for people with severe mental illnesses, organized and implemented by clients themselves.

Boevink does not advocate a counter-movement. On the contrary, she promotes connecting individual and collective client experiences with scientific knowledge. Boevink does not want to limit this overlap to the experiential knowledge only, but expand it to other domains of knowledge. Exchanging experiential knowledge, scientific knowledge, as well as professional knowledge is important for the recovery of people with severe mental distress and for supporting them well. Adequate care demands “multi-expertise,” a basic principle that is also the foundation of “The New Mental Health Care Movement,” of which Boevink is co-founder. Combining these domains and sources of knowledge is required at all levels, not in the least the daily practice at the individual level between client, caregiver and the network of all involved.

Mental healthcare has long been discussing client-based care, recovery care, and care where “focus is on the client.” Yet many mental healthcare clients experience inadequate understanding and see a great gap between professional care and their needs and the world in which they live. According to Boevink, only further developing and recognizing experiential knowledge and dialectically combining this perspective with professional and scientific expertise, can bridge this gap and in doing so actually bring mental health care to a new level.

Wilma Boevink (1963) was at the conceptual stages of the recovery movement within the Netherlands. She was the main author of “Samen werken aan herstel,” a book published in 2002 about a recovery program developed and implemented by clients. At that time she had been working on her own recovery for years and was combining that with her scientific research at the Trimbos Institute. Ever since then she has initiated a broad range of (research)programs in the area of recovery and experiential expertise; this in cooperation with a growing network of experiential experts.

Wilma defends her thesis April 13, 2017, at the Maastricht University. Planting a tree (English version); HEE! Over Herstel, Empowerment en Ervaringsdeskundigheid in de psychiatrie, 2017 (Dutch version)

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