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Category: The Guide’s Guide: A blog for lived experience professionals

6 Tips for Promoting Inclusion and Reducing Tokenization of Lived Experience Professionals by Rachael Landau

As organizations continue to grow and strengthen their inclusionary practices for lived experience professionals, there are some factors that should be considered by the organizations. Agencies and organizations that employ lived experience professionals should be thoughtful and intentional in their efforts to avoid tokenizing these individuals. Tokenization may occur when an agency appears to be inclusive, however, their organizational practices do not encourage authentic engagement, both in terms of decision-making and providing opportunities for engagement, rather than limiting their involvement. When organizational cultures support and elevate the voices of lived experience, they move closer to inclusionary practices, and they have the power to shape social justice reform at and beyond the agency level. Agencies should be prepared to ensure that these employees are valued, respected, and considered at all levels of decision-making. Here are some tips for promoting inclusion and reducing tokenization of lived experience professionals:

1. Assess for readiness and do some homework: it’s vital that employers understand the complexity and value of lived experience and the ways in which these perspectives can strengthen the mission of the agency.

2. Create opportunities for lived experience professionals to be involved in decision-making: this is especially important in terms of decisions that may potentially impact them directly or the youth and families they work with. Not only should they be included in these efforts, but their voices should be elevated and validated.

3. Collaborate effectively with lived experience professionals: employers need to recognize the valuable perspective that lived experience professionals bring to the organization and create opportunities for authentic allyship and partnership with these team members.

4. Individualize your approach: there is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to lived experience, so naturally, there should not be a cookie-cutter approach in supporting these professionals.
5. Avoid minimizing the experiences of others: a person’s experience is just that: THEIR EXPERIENCE. When professionals share their experiences, it is so important that their employers validate and honor what is shared.

6. Empower and identify opportunities for personal and professional growth: lived experience professionals should be provided with opportunities to advance their knowledge and skills, as well as share their knowledge and skills with others.

By promoting the inclusion of lived experience professionals and creating opportunities for their personal and professional growth, everybody wins. Organizations are privileged to employ staff who are willing and able to share their lived experience to impact the lives of others. The perspectives that these professionals bring have the potential to shed light on systemic issues and bridge gaps to promote social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. The knowledge and skills that they bring to the table are unique and cannot be learned in a classroom or read about in a book. Therefore, these professionals should continue to be elevated, supported, utilized intentionally, and most importantly, valued.

3 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

The temperature has dropped, the daylight hours have decreased, and for some this means the Winter Blues has set in. This can be overwhelming especially for those battling the physical and mental downside the change in season while supporting those with mental health challenges. Here are three ways to combat the Winter Blues as a lived experience professional:

1. Be Productive. Keeping busy and being productive can aid in fighting the Winter Blues. The sense of accomplishment that comes from productivity releases dopamine, a hormone that plays a role in learning and motivation. Other ways to get dopamine include exercising, reading a book, or spending time in nature. Productivity doesn’t always mean doing something that will add another check to your to-do list such as completing documentation or a training. Sometimes it means doing something that your future self and those that you support will thank you for later, such as spending time with a pet.

2. Sunlight. Sunlight is vital for those fighting the Winter Blues because when there is less sunlight, the body produces less serotonin. A deficit in serotonin can lead to a decrease in mood, sleep, appetite, and memory. Get outside during daylight hours as much as possible. You can do this by taking walks through your neighborhood during your breaks if you work from home, having lunch outside or even meeting with your youth and families outside. A nice change in scenery can do wonders not only for you, but those you support. After all, you are probably not the only one struggling, so bundle up and get outside!

3. Stay connected. During the cold months, it’s easy to want to stay in and sleep and eat more than usual. Do not fall victim to those desires by staying connected to friends, family, and co-workers. One way to stay connected is to keep up with any holiday traditions with friends and family. If you don’t have any, take the time and put forth the effort to create some. If you’ve lost family members in recent years, be intentional about creating new memories with those who are still with you. Staying connected prevents isolation and helps fight the Winter Blues.

Highlights from the Family Partner Workforce

This month we’ve focused on defining what we do through a social media explainer video campaign that coincided with Global Peer Support Celebration Day on October 19th. A couple of other examples  of how we make an impact through lived experience come directly from the Family Partner Workforce.

Lydia Aponte-Tucker shared, “I am blessed to have a profession that allows me to help and give in such of meaningful way. I’m dedicated to support, educate and provide resources to parents and caregivers whose child or children are experiencing mental health conditions. I help navigate and facilitate resources available to ensure the best quality of life for my families. My passion for my profession originated after experiencing being a parent of a child with a mental health condition with no support nor knowledge at the beginning of our journey. Realizing that a lot of the challenges and obstacles I went through came from the lack of support, the lack of knowledge and the lack of resource awareness was the force behind me becoming a Family Partner. I am committed to be part of the movement that will take mental health to the next level because we have come far with mental health, but we still have a long way to go.”

“If I never do anything else, this class has helped and validated my experience so much I was just able to speak with a provider calmly assertively and eloquently while highlighting the common ground. We are the change and I believe that with every fiber of my being!,” proclaimed Jessica Page, a Family Partner 101 participant.

If you or someone you know is the caregiver of a youth or young adult who has mental or behavioral health challenges and is interested in learning more about utilizing their experience, please contact our Family Training Coordinator, Frederick Douglas at!



My Recovery Story & How Others Can Find Help with ATLAS by Ashley Riley

Finding addiction treatment shouldn’t be hard. When you decide to change your life, you should feel confident that your treatment facility will support you in your journey, using services backed by research and science. But unfortunately, that isn’t the case for everyone.

I began my recovery journey eight years ago.

At the time, I was facing suspension for my drinking history. Still, the University of Connecticut gave me another chance, as long as I attended a Collegiate Recovery meeting once per week, went to therapy and a harm reduction group, and attended 12-step meetings daily.

Life didn’t magically get better because I stopped using substances. It became increasingly more difficult – at the beginning of my sobriety, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Years after I got sober, I was hospitalized twice and in mental health treatment for one year.

Looking back, I can see that due to untreated mental health issues, I wanted to drink every day in my first year of sobriety. Even after that year, I struggled because I was only being treated for part of the problem – my addiction. Suicidal thoughts plagued me daily until I found the proper medication; not having treatment for my addiction AND mental health could have cost me my life.

If Shatterproof’s Treatment Atlas had been available to me, I’m confident that my journey through treatment would have looked very different.

The website can be used by anyone touched by addiction to search for and compare treatment based on their individual needs. For me, I needed to find treatment for co-occurring disorders. I also needed mental health medication, treatment inclusive of the LGBTQ+ population, and treatment that accepted my insurance – all of which can be found on the Treatment Atlas website,

This is huge. Not only is Treatment Atlas a resource for those searching for care, but it is also a tool to hold providers accountable – to ensure that the services they offer are helpful, progressive, and backed by science. Treatment Atlas also gives patients like me a voice by providing a space to share their experiences through anonymous feedback surveys.

Treatment Atlas brings a sense of community to the overwhelming journey that is recovery.

I am grateful that I am now a member of the Shatterproof team and get to be a part of helping to guide communities to recovery. For North Carolinians, Treatment Atlas brings a sense of hope – hope that you can find the right treatment program to meet your needs and that you never have to walk this path alone. Although Treatment Atlas wasn’t around to help me during my initial recovery journey, I sincerely hope it can now help you and your loved ones in your time of need. We all deserve confidence in our recovery journeys.


Introducing The Guide’s Guide: A blog for lived experience professionals

The Guide’s Guide–A blog for lived experience professionals

Hello and welcome to The Guide’s Guide– a blog for lived experience professionals! Here you’ll find posts specifically for individuals who use their lived experience professionally or individuals who would like to learn more about peer support, mental health, behavioral health and how to impact their communities using their lived experience. These posts will come from the NCVA Team or as some say, lived experience experts.

Many people feel that using your lived experience means you’ve mastered some part of your life and for some lived experience professionals that is the case, but the truth is no matter where you find yourself on your journey, you’re still living your lived experience and so are we! Living. Learning. Exploring. For us, using your lived experience simply means supporting someone else on their journey as they face challenges similar to ones you’ve endured. We don’t get to choose how others process their experiences, but we can guide them through it! That’s what the Guide’s Guide is all about–guiding those who guide others and giving them the tools to succeed.

We declare this section of our website a brave space where we acknowledge the challenges that come with using lived experience professionally! We aim to support and empower those who are open to engaging in sometimes difficult yet important issues that surround mental health peer support for the purposes of becoming better lived experience professionals! Whether you are a youth partner, family peer specialist or in training, we hope these posts will add value to your experience and the impact you have on those you serve!

Join the movement by following us on social media and subscribing to our YouTube channel! There’s so much in store!