Professional Development: Learning from First-Person Perspectives

Janet Barbieri, MSW, LICSW, AANE Director of Training and Education
Blog Post

Making the decision to enter into the healthcare, mental health or education field is often sparked by a personal experience. Whether your own experience, or the experience of a loved one, healthcare professionals, educators, and mental health providers can often cite one or many personal reasons that guided them to their chosen professional path. For many of us, these transformative experiences will inform our life’s work.

After years of specialized education, hopeful students become early career professionals and may earn the privileged designation of licensed professional. This achievement affirms a level of competence, understanding and knowledge in a chosen field. For licensed professionals, continued learning will be an ongoing requirement throughout their career.

Though requirements vary across disciplines, professionals are often expected to earn a specified number of continuing education credits or professional development points over an outlined period of time to maintain their licensure. These requirements aim to ensure continued professional competence and up-to-date knowledge of practice and research developments.

Continuing education often highlights professional voices and outlines research and practice advancements, sharing with professionals invaluable information pertinent to their chosen fields. There are, however, identifiable opportunities to explore professional development practices to further bolster the competence of our professional community. One such opportunity is meaningful inclusion of the voices of those with lived experience.

Why First-Person Perspectives are Crucial

Gaining an accurate understanding of the needs and priorities of the community is a critical jumping-off point when developing impactful, targeted programs, practices and research advancements. Gotten wrong, the professional community solves a problem that is not, in fact, a priority. Members of the community served are the experts from whom professionals need to learn when determining the needs of the community.

First-person narratives also offer professionals invaluable information about the implementation of developed approaches, tools, and strategies. Research can tell us about the efficacy of an intervention when tested within a research context (i.e., “should it work”) and first-person perspectives can tell us about the effectiveness of interventions when applied in a real world context, such as a clinic or classroom (i.e., “does it work”). Members of the community served are the experts from whom professionals need to learn when understanding the impact of interventions.

Valuing Lived Experiences in Professional Development

Professional communities are beginning to recognize and respond to the critical need to include the voices, perspectives, and insight of individuals with lived experience in the development of program and research initiatives. Individuals with lived experience are advisors guiding next steps and leading the way for the professional community. But replicating this within professional development programs has identifiable barriers.

To be eligible to offer continuing education credits or professional development points, there are specific requirements for content developers, and these requirements can present barriers to achieving meaningful inclusion of first-person speakers. First-person narratives may not qualify as professional development offerings. There is room for intentional exploration of how our professional development requirements reflect how first-person narratives are valued within the professional community.

Opportunities to Enhance Professional Competence

Valuing first-person narratives as equally critical to continuing education services as professionals reviewing current clinical and research developments will only advance the aim of professional development requirements. Highlighting first-person narratives offers listeners both an accurate understanding of the needs and priorities of the community, as well as the effectiveness of intervention strategies. Professionals need to understand both the needs of the community as well as the impact of developed interventions to maintain professional competence.

Continuing education requirements hold professionals accountable for maintaining a level of competence and understanding. Increasing representation of self-advocates and individuals with lived experience within continuing education offerings will give professionals the education necessary to maintain professional competence. For many of us, a lived experience brought us to the field, and allowing lived experience to continue to guide our professions will only advance our ability to support our community moving forward.