What to Say When Peers Are Asked to Work for Free

Editor’s Note:  As a mental health consultant with lived experience,  I identify with this piece by Corinna West.  More often than not, invitations from mental health providers to keynote conferences, advise on projects, and serve on committees do not include payment for our time, expertise, and experience.  It’s as if they think we have nothing else to do, and the honor of having them listen to us should be all the reward we need.  I was once asked to keynote a conference out of state, and pay my own air fare and hotel bill.  “We don’t have funding to pay you,” the organizer said.  The nerve! I thought.  What other professional expert would she ask to pay to work for her? — Ken Braiterman 

Dear Committee Organizer,

Mental health consultant Corinna West

Mental health consultant Corinna West

Thanks so much for thinking of me as an educated and vocal voice on mental health care, and inviting me to join your Hospital to Home committee.

However, I’ve found that my efforts are the most well received when mental health providers think of me as a mental health consultant. rather than simply someone who is honored by the invite. A stipend for meeting time and meeting preparations is an excellent way to show the value of my knowledge and education. All of the other people in the room are paid, and on the clock, except the people with lived experience, who are usually self-employed.

If You Value Me As a Mental Health Consultant, Show It by Paying Me

I’ve also found that a mental health consultant with lived experience is often coming to advocacy with a different viewpoint – that medications and labels help some people, but not everyone, and may be increasing the amount of disability in our country. This research is often not understood or respected by mental health providers.

One way I have found to preserve my business income and reputation as a mental health consultant is to not give unsolicited advice to people who are not ready to hear it. Often I have found that a good measure of their willingness to hear me is whether they have budgeted some sort of fee for a mental health consultant with lived experience.

If the committee is ready for this next step to increase involvement of people in recovery, I would be glad to start some kind of negotiation process to see how best I could help.

Thanks so much for thinking of me.

Would you work for free as a mental health consultant?

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