Expert by Experience (EbE)

I’ve just finished listening to ‘Soccology’, an Amazon best selling book by Kevin George, who started his professional career as a footballer, firstly as a schoolboy player at West Ham United FC and then as an adult at Charlton Athletic FC. Kevin is a self-titled ‘human performance therapist’ who has studied counselling and Neuro-Linguistic Programming.  He produced an emotional literacy (EQ) curriculum, which he used in schools, prisons and in the workplace.  He has also been involved in alternative education and children’s mental health charity Place2Be. He created a programme for the football industry, drawing upon players’ experiences and his EQ  curriculum, to create his business ‘Soccology’.  He has worked with clubs from the English Football League & Premier League and has most recently taken his business on-line in order to offer mental health support to elite and competitive clubs around the world.

Kevin, in my view, embodies the whole concept of EbE. This is a term that has come  increasingly to the fore in mental health.  In 2020 The Care Quality Commission defined EbE as “people who have recent personal experience of using or caring for someone who uses health, mental health and/or social care services that we regulate.  At the time they were making £11.4 million available to employ EbE in health trusts, the voluntary sector and community organisations, in order to support engagement and to gather ‘intelligence’ to improve the quality of public services. The principle at play here is that an individual’s lived experience should be harvested and employed in the provision of services. 

As usual, when I was thinking about all this, I began to wonder about the language being used and so I turned to my  ‘Concise Etymological Dictionary Of The English Language’ by W.W. Skeats. It turns out that the word ’expert’ derives from the Latin  for ‘experienced’, expertus, which in turn, derives from experiri, meaning knowledge due to trial, i.e. experience. So it seems the whole phenomenon of language about experience/expertise/expert is highly inter-related and perhaps modern-day usage has overlooked this for its own self-serving ends.   

Returning to ‘Soccology’, the author is not a psychologist or a psychiatrist but he has worked with a lot of professional footballers, their managers and  coaches and much of what he has to say is drawn from the client group for his business.  I am no stranger to the self-styled experts that seem to arise in every field, alongside the professionals who have had to face the trials of years of study, possible failure and personal sacrifice in order to achieve certification and regulated qualifications.  Sometimes the enthusiasm and drive of these individuals who are EbE combines to produce useful and occasionally, innovative material, but too often a lot of their energy is used in self promotion, justification and questionable or even absent ethical standards and values and then there is the commercial imperative, always lurking.  This is where professionalism, regulation and quality standards come in and the professional experts are generally a safer bet. 

My own experience of listening to ’Soccology’ was difficult. The sheer verbosity, the relentless and masculine ‘knower’ voice and the quantity of material was hard to absorb.  I listened in fairly small chunks and usually stopped listening when I started to become irritated and realised there was a lot of repetition, self justification and self promotion.  This is not to say that there was no useful content and in fact, to some degree, there was some innovative material in the book.  Kevin obviously has a lot of ‘ethnographic’ knowledge’, i. e. Information gathered in and about the field in which he has lived and worked, i.e., football.  However, I am uncomfortable about the quantity of personal and intimate detail disclosed from and about the many individuals from whom quotes are gathered. Clearly these have been given with full and informed consent but has everyone involved had time and support to talk through the implications of revealing personal and sometimes distressing material? 

We have all become tolerant and unsurprised by the public disclosure of individuals’ most personal and intimate lives.  Reality television has been colonising this for some time and indeed, the viewing public’s appetite for this seems to be huge.   Unfortunately, there have been some grim repercussions where particularly vulnerable and unsupported individuals have been involved.  Perhaps this is where being an EbE really does arise from ‘knowledge by trial’ and if public exposure of difficult experiences adds unbearably to the trial it is time to define the limits, both at a societal level and a personal level. I do not think this can happen without professional input.       

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