The use of experiential knowledge in the role of a psychiatrist

Authors Marjolein Boomsma-van Holten, Alie Weerman, Simona Karbouniaris, Jim van Os
Published in Frontiers in Psychiatry
Publication date 2023
Type Article


There is increasing interest in the use of experiential knowledge and the development of experiential expertise in mental health. Yet, little is known about how best to use this expertise in the role of a psychiatrist. This study aims to gain insight into the concerns of psychiatrists using their lived experiences with mental health distress as a source of knowledge for patients, colleagues and themselves. Eighteen psychiatrists with lived experience as patients in mental health care were interviewed with a semi-structured questionnaire. The interviews were analyzed using qualitative narrative thematic analysis. The majority of the respondents use their lived experience implicitly in the contact with patients, which makes the contact more equal and strengthens the treatment relationship. When explicitly using experiential knowledge in the contact with patients, thought should be given at forehand to its purpose, timing and dosage. Recommendations are that the psychiatrist should be able to reflect on his/her lived experience from a sufficient distance and should take patient factors into account. When working in a team, it is advisable to discuss the use of experiential knowledge in advance with the team. An open organizational culture facilitates the use of experiential knowledge and safety and stability in the team are vital. Current professional codes do not always offer the space to be open. Organizational interests play a role, in the degree of self-disclosure as it can lead to conflict situations and job loss. Respondents unanimously indicated that the use of experiential knowledge in the role of a psychiatrist is a personal decision. Self-reflection and peer supervision with colleagues can be helpful to reflect on different considerations with regard to the use of experiential knowledge. Having personal lived experiences with a mental disorder affects the way psychiatrists think about and performs the profession. The perception of psychopathology becomes more nuanced and there seems to be an increased understanding of the suffering. Even though harnessing experiential knowledge makes the doctor-patient relationship more horizontal it remains unequal because of the difference in roles. However, if adequately used, experiential knowledge can enhance the treatment relationship.

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Language English
Published in Frontiers in Psychiatry
Key words psychiatrists, lived experience (of the illness), experiential knowledge, lived experience practitioners, disclosure
Digital Object Identifier 10.3389/fpsyt.2023.1163804