Life Education vs. Institution Education

Have you ever heard the old adage: “You don’t have to put your hand in the fire to know it burns?” I’m sure that sentiment is true; cause and effect is based in common sense. Every action has a reaction. However, I find that having put your hand in a fire; you’d be much more adept at explaining how it feels and what your recovery was like. This brings me to my next thought: mental and behavioral health services.

I recently began browsing volunteer positions and jobs in the mental health and behavioral health field because that was my most recent experience. I found myself with my nose wrinkled up quite a few times. There are positions titled ‘Program Associate’, ‘Intake Counselor’, ‘Outreach Enrollment Specialist’ etc. These job duties vary per title but they’re all very similar. The gist? Help  new clients get acclimated to Medicaid services and the program they will be entering, advocate for resources etc etc. Now…that pesky little line Qualifications undoubtedly shows up. “Preferred Bachelors degree & 2 years + experience in related field etc etc.”

I read that and I’m always befuddled. Why does one need a degree to help someone enter into a program? All the papers written, courses taken, and student loans accrued could not give a person the insight needed to really help people getting assistance with their mental and behavioral health. Why not leave that position open to people who, o I don’t know, perhaps know what it’s like to enter these programs? People who have a rare insight to dealing with mental and behavioral health issues?

One of the things I resented most during my time in the Psych ward was my VERY young Psychologist who just had all the answers…because her text-book told her so. She only mentioned a million times “I could only imagine what it must feel like.” And I thought to myself…Yes…you ONLY could imagine…because despite the stresses of college life and graduate school it will never equate to having lived with my brain in it’s state for over 20 years of my life. I just didn’t connect with her at all. Now on the flip side of that…while I was in a program once…it was genius…the people assisting were people who had been through the same things I had. I could relate, there was a comfort and comradery in discussing the embarrassing and awkward details of my mental health.

Imagine how much it sucked to know these people weren’t being paid; they were volunteers…because they didn’t have a fancy degree. In my opinion, peer-to-peer counseling does not require a degree. In my opinion, a degree doesn’t mean you will understand me outside of a textbook. I wish that these facilities,organizations and programs would hire people who have fought these battles and are still doing so successfully. It makes a world of difference. And that’s not to take away from the things that actually require a degree; like prescribing medication because I wouldn’t recommend telling any ol’ Joe to do such a thing.

While volunteering is nice…so is getting paid for something you’ve dedicated your life to as opposed to handing the job to someone who dedicated 4 years to something many of us have lived our whole lives. Maybe I’m bitter or insensitive or whatever…but it just seems to make a whole lot more sense.

But alas…tis the way things are.

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