How a behavioral healthcare leader’s lived experience positively impacts member journeys

Linda Henderson-Smith, PhD, LPC, Senior Product Management Director at Carelon Behavioral Health, discusses her personal experiences on the recent Lemonada podcast, “I Need to Ask You Something,” a youth mental health podcast series.


When healthcare providers choose to work in the mental health field, they often do so not only because they want to help others, but because they have personal experience with mental health struggles. The providers’ lived experience makes them more empathetic towards their clients since they have struggled with similar pain.1

“I thought maybe this is where I should be (in psychology) because of my past experiences,” shares Linda Henderson-Smith, PhD, LPC, Senior Product Management Director, Carelon Behavioral Health, in an interview on the recent Lemonada podcast, “I Need To Ask You Something,” a youth mental health podcast series. Dr. Henderson-Smith is a licensed professional counselor and an educational psychologist by training. “I experienced a couple of pretty severe traumas in my childhood.”

Providers with lived experience also have greater insight into the care system, service delivery, and the challenges that individuals face when navigating the system.1 Dr. Henderson-Smith shares her experience not only as a patient, but as a parent as well. “My son's journey with major depression, and suicidal ideations and attempts has been very eye opening, even as a parent who does know the system, who helped design the system in the state that I live in, and as a children's behavioral health director.”

Healthcare professionals who have struggled with similar pain, and learned how to manage it, are more equipped to be aware of their clients’ emotional and systemic journeys.2  Dr. Henderson-Smith continues to share her experience navigating the system as a parent. “I happened to know the executive director of (my son’s) agency, made a phone call and asked, what is happening? But most parents don't have that. They don't know people within the system… And even being in the system, being a clinician, understanding how the system works, I still experience some of the same shame, some of the same guilt, some of the same judgment.”

Empathy is at the core of a care provider’s effective healthcare delivery. A care provider taking the time to truly understand and validate their patients' experiences helps to provide better-quality care and improve health outcomes. In turn, the patients validate themselves, which is a main goal of therapy.3

Dr. Henderson-Smith’s background has impacted the way she views her role, working to develop and implement Crisis Solutions at Carelon Behavioral Health. “Part of the work that I do at Carelon is creating standardized ways for system oversight, accountability, and quality improvement. We can make sure that wherever we are, we have a system in place that can support those who are at their most vulnerable. I need this type of experience to shape how we're looking at planning and program design. I need people like me to be a part of the process in designing the work that's being done.”

Lived experience can ultimately empower care providers to become better leaders.1 “I didn't realize just how broken (the system) was until I went through it,” says Dr. Henderson-Smith. “So, for me, it has ignited that advocate in me and the desire to be at a higher level. I need people to understand this experience.”


Listen to Dr. Linda Henderson-Smith’s full interview with Lemonada below.

Download audio transcript 

Lemonada produces and distributes award-winning and chart-topping podcasts in all genres, with a significant emphasis on mental and physical health across their slate of 35+ shows. They launched a new Youth Mental Health series in September 2023.


1 Moudatsou M, Stavropoulou A, Philalithis A, Koukouli S: The Role of Empathy in Health and Social Care Professionals (March 2020): .

2 Sunkel C, Sartor C: Perspectives: involving persons with lived experience of mental health conditions in service delivery, development and leadership (June 2022): .

3 Irarrazaval L, Kalawski JP: Phenomenological considerations on empathy and emotions in psychotherapy (October 2022): .