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Michael Higbee: “Help the helper”

I believe stigma usually stems from a lack of knowledge and misunderstanding. In other words, I think people naturally fear what we don’t understand. In addition, mental illness is not “attractive” in the sense that it involves multiple aspects of people’s lives, which are often complicated and messy. I think our society would like a […]


I believe stigma usually stems from a lack of knowledge and misunderstanding. In other words, I think people naturally fear what we don’t understand. In addition, mental illness is not “attractive” in the sense that it involves multiple aspects of people’s lives, which are often complicated and messy. I think our society would like a quick fix or easy solution to mental illness, but my experience tells me this doesn’t exist. I am encouraged that our society is discussing this topic more and more. I think the more people collaborating and working together on solutions, the better.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Higbee. He is the Chief Clinical Officer at BestNotes, where he has the unique role of being a clinician in a software development company. BestNotes is a top rated behavioral EHR for mental health and addiction treatment software. Over the past two years Michael has focused on helping to create a segment-specific documentation solution inside their EHR/CRM. Prior to his current position with BestNotes, Michael worked for 15 years in the behavioral healthcare market as a clinical director, supervisor, and therapist. While he spent a majority of his time helping children and adolescents in residential care, he also worked for several years in a variety of outpatient settings (community-based clinic, hospice social work, and private practice). Michael earned his MSW with an emphasis on Employee Assistance Programs from the University of Maryland, Baltimore and his Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from BYU in Provo, UT. He lives with his wife and 6 children in Kimberly, Idaho.


Thank you so much for joining us Michael! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

I think the backstory of me choosing Social Work as a career started early in my life. As a child and young boy, I was generally cheerful and optimistic, which led me to be particularly curious about people. As an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University, I remember taking a class called “The Sociology of Mental Illness” and feeling a bit overwhelmed with the intensity and impact of people’s personal problems. However, what had an even larger impact on me that day was the idea that I might be able to participate and support people in their desires to “create” mental health/wellness in their lives. I felt inspired by this idea (and opportunity): of working with others to create more health and discover greater meaning in their lives.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

I believe stigma usually stems from a lack of knowledge and misunderstanding. In other words, I think people naturally fear what we don’t understand. In addition, mental illness is not “attractive” in the sense that it involves multiple aspects of people’s lives, which are often complicated and messy. I think our society would like a quick fix or easy solution to mental illness, but my experience tells me this doesn’t exist. I am encouraged that our society is discussing this topic more and more. I think the more people collaborating and working together on solutions, the better.

Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?

I think we can best help de-stigmatize by recognizing the humanity that we have in common, and then committing to seeing and defining people by our strengths and abilities, rather than by our weaknesses. I also feel blessed to have an employer who encourages these types of discussions in the workplace. At BestNotes we have the opportunity to have discussions as a company around these types of topics. I think this creates a strong culture of generosity, caring, and support. We need more discussion and more sharing.

Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?

The opportunity with BestNotes emerged a few years ago. They were interested to hire an individual with clinical experience in the behavioral health industry. I was impressed with their openness and desire to improve the clinical aspects of their software. I believe we are doing really innovative things here at BestNotes, and I look forward to seeing how providers respond. Ultimately, I view the work we are doing to “help the helper” as also helping the patients who receive professional services. The tools we offer providers can either add to or detract from their jobs and the therapeutic experience. Although it is more removed than what I have done in the past, I love knowing that we are working to improve and create a therapeutic work environment for behavioral health professionals.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

  • Listen to each other; laugh at our own weakness
  • Define ourselves by our strengths, not our weaknesses
  • Strengthen families — these are the people we are closest to
  • Encourage communities . . . be a support and a backup to natural supports.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

  • Exercise — physical challenges symbolize emotional, unseen challenges.
  • “I can do it” Positive self-talk.
  • Spiritual connection to our Maker
  • See the good in others — most people are mostly good most of the time.”
  • Forgiveness — ask for it and offer it.
  • Accept weaknesses but work to change them
  • Receive
  • Compliment others’ strengths
  • Seek to develop healthy habits.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

Dr. Greene — podcasts

Bonds that Make us Free, — The Arbinger Institute

Russian Literature

Man’s Search for Meaning . . .

Dr. Seuss books . . . The Zax

Clay Therapy . . .

The Knight in Rusty Armor . . .

How will you measure your life? — Clayton Christensen

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