I'll throw in my .02 FWIW. I come from a background in anthropology where life experience is looked upon rather positively when applying to programs; in fact, some persons/departments encourage potential applicants to take a few years off between BA and MA/PhD to become more familiar with the area/region they'll specialize in. Also, theories would 'make more sense'/you'll have something to relate those theories to, you'll mature, etc, etc.
I thought, to some extent, this would be true for the psych field as well. After lurking on this board for awhile and seeing posts by many persons going straight from psych BA to PhD at a very young age, it made me wonder if some of these persons were actually mature enough to do this.
I think experience with mental illness/disorder would help in developing/maintaining relationships with clients (especially if you've dealt with a 12-step program); it can give you 'clout'.
However, since the psych field can be strongly 'positivist', you're dealing with an outlook that often does not really appreciate personal/non-field-related experience; you're dealing with a 'positivist'/universalist/'objective'/'scientific' outlook towards phenomena. A=B, that's it. American culture/society/academia has strongly aligned itself with this outlook, and that's the lens the admissions committee might view you with. As Iwillheal above me stated, the psych field is strongly aligning/has aligned itself with this outlook (perhaps for political reasons here and there). With that said, I'd leave it off the application. I wouldnt take the risk - you can always bring such things up later.
And as others have said, I think it's very important that you do not mix up your own problems with the problems of persons you're treating, etc. That could potentially spell disaster. But I think that's where the positivist outlook is helpful; it can help you distance yourself form those clients/patients/those you are 'helping', and you can deal with things on more of a factual/logical manner. Also, trying to 'fix' someone by relating the experience to your own experience can also lead to personal disaster (or trying to 'fix' anyone in general!). Again, FWIW from someone without much experience in the psych field ...
Last edited by sabaijae; 04-14-2012 at 04:23 AM.