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Empowering Consumer and Family Member Voices
Lived Experience Academy Graduates 14 New Speakers

Graduate receiving award

The BHRS Lived Experience Academy is a 10-hour training program that facilitates the development of consumers and family members as empowered leaders in San Mateo County who can represent the voices and interests of all BHRS clients, serve as recovery ambassadors and role models, and help reduce stigma.  Participants learn how to share their personal stories through inspirational, insightful and authentic testimonies, and demonstrate that with the right treatment, services and supports, many can and do recover. “I joined because I wanted to do my part to make the world a better place and help inspire hope,” said Lucas, one of the graduates.

Fostering Empowerment

Participants learn skills such as basic story telling techniques, how to prepare and write their story, and identify areas they can safely talk about with different audiences, along with other public speaking techniques.  They also learn to see their challenges as a source of hope, strength and wisdom and to redefine their narratives to see themselves as strong, wise resilient individuals effectively and courageously dealing with their circumstances.  Most importantly, they learn about internalizing mental health stigmas and move from seeing themselves as incomplete, defective or ill, to whole human beings who deserve a safe community, healthy relationships, healthcare services, a role in society and a job, just like everyone else. 

It’s given me the tool of knowing how to utilize my voice,” said a graduate.

This year, 14 people graduated from the program, funded by MHSA, and over 100 have graduated since the program began approximately 10 years ago.  Clients come away with a deeper understanding of their life experiences, find fellowship and support within their cohort, and establish trust and vulnerability.  “What I didn’t expect was the emotional impact these classes would have on me. I wasn’t expecting everyone’s traumatic stories to grip my heart in such a deep way,” said Lucas, a recent graduate.

Along the way, many participants build their self-confidence, self-esteem and come away feeling empowered. “Having autism, it can be very hard for me to speak in front of strangers.  It was hard to do so at first. but it got easier over time.  By graduation I felt really impressed with myself” exclaimed Lucas.   “I never would have seen myself doing something like this…I usually give up quickly, but this time around, I’m proud I stuck in there all the way.” 

“ I felt shame to share my story about mental health, but now I do not have any shame, ” said another graduate. 

Consumer and Family Member Voices Improves Services

Graduates are encouraged to participate in the numerous committees and workgroups that welcome clients and family members throughout BHRS to offer advice and collaborate with providers in the design and implementation of BHRS services. Many graduates now work at the county as peers or family partners. Providers benefit immensely as more clients and family members become embedded in our system, providing input and experience to help improve services. 

Some go on to participate in the Lived Experience & Education Workgroup, (LEEW), a group of consumer and family member leaders who use their lived experience to educate and transform the BHRS community. LEEW provides consumer and family member speakers for the many speaking opportunities available throughout the county and continuously educates and support clients and family members to help them become advocates and change agents within BHRS. LEEW members plan to present trainings on the recovery model throughout the county. 

Learn more about the Lived Experience Academy and LEEW Workgroup.  For more questions about LEA or to request a consumer and/or family member speaker for your event, contact Jairo Wilches from the BHRS Office of Consumer and Family Affairs at, (650) 573-2890.