"Are you a researcher OR someone with lived experience?" Occupying multiple spaces as a researcher, professional, and someone with lived experience

Bonnie Scarth

This presentation will weave Bonnie’s personal experience of surviving complex trauma with her process of researching suicide and suffering using qualitative methods. While lived experience has been slowly gaining recognition as a form of expertise in the realm of mental health, the concept of qualified researchers with lived experience is not yet accepted in professional and academic life. Thus, the “either/or” attitudes of academia have complicated Bonnie’s experience of gaining qualifications and carving out a career while navigating and negotiating her own lived experience. In addition, she has experienced repercussions from both the lived experience sector and the non-lived experience professional sector when navigating through this process and negotiating how much to share and present, or not share. It is still too- frequently a “lose, lose” situation whatever we share or do not share of ourselves as survivors.

By the end of this presentation, attendees should have gained:

  • More insight and understanding as to the importance of recognising that lived experience and professional identity need to be recognised as necessarily entwined for many survivors.
  • Why this entwinement can be helpful in understanding complex issues such as suicide and trauma.
  • Why we must move away from binary perspectives on lived experience and professional identity.
  • That making it safer to be “out” about our lived experience as professional selves will actually strengthen our work.

Bonnie Scarth is the Suicide Prevention/Postvention Coordinator in the Southern region of New Zealand. She received a Fulbright scholarship to study at Cornell University, where she focused on the subjective meaning-making of the lived experience of suicide and suffering. Her research has been published in international journals, and presented at conferences. What drives and informs her work is her lived experience of surviving complex trauma and PTSD and breaking intergenerational cycles of violence and abuse.


A Portrait of Bonnie Scarth, from a November 2017 interview.