“…Coming from the outside, you can’t really know what is happening. You might have ideas, but the only people who know what is really going to work and how to get at what is really going in is us.” (Angela, 19, homeless, New York City, 11/03*)
Participatory research can be understood as seeing the person, who is taking part in the research, as the expert on his or her own experiences. It invites the person’s perspective and input on the problem or concept being studied. Conventional approaches can often miss key elements of experience, making the inclusion of the person into the research endeavor a vital part of the process. PRCH has used this method in a variety of studies related to recovery, policy, and person-centered planning. In particular, the exclusion of people in recovery from research serves to reinforce a more passive and helpless role commonly associated with that of a ‘mental patient’ and further stigmatizing individuals.
This approach has been used to great success in looking at the reasons for people reentering the hospital multiple times. The act of the research itself is a tool which can help people to reclaim their sense of agency and control by being listened to and heard, with their experiences and viewpoint being valued as important.
PRCH also uses participatory research in working with providers to transform mental health systems. PRCH is currently involved in projects in Philadelphia and the state of Connecticut. Using feedback from people directly involved in all aspects of the system allows PRCH to work with systems to change them from the inside.