Definitions of Recovery

What is Recovery?

Flowers, by MK

Recovery refers to the process

in which people are able to live,

work, learn, and participate fully

in their communities. . . . Recovery

is the ability to live a fulfilling and

productive life despite a disability.

—President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, Final Report

Recovery from mental illness and substance abuse can be a challenging concept to define because it means different things to different people. Recovery is perhaps best defined as a way of looking at the world, a way of living life. William Anthony, executive director of the Boston University’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, wrote that recovery is “a deeply personal, unique process of changing one’s attitudes, values, feelings, goals, skills and/or roles. It is a way of living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life even with limitations caused by the illness. Recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness.”

Ultimately, because recovery is such a personal journey, everyone has his or her own unique definition. However, certain key concepts form a common thread.

•           HOPE. Hope is a key expectation, a foundation on which to build recovery. Even the smallest belief that one can get better can fuel the recovery process.

•           EMPOWERMENT. Empowerment is the belief that you have power over your own life, including your illness. It involves taking responsibility for and advocating for yourself. As you grow in your recovery, so will your sense of empowerment.

•           EDUCATION. Education is an important steppingstone in the recovery journey. In order to maximize your recovery, it is important to know about your illness, medications, symptoms and the treatment available. Educating yourself helps you take control.

•           SUPPORT. Essential to recovery is support. This comes from friends, spouses, family and mental health professionals. It is important to have several forms of support. This helps to decrease any feelings of isolation. Participating in support groups can help you grow by connecting you to others who understand what you are going through.

•           SPIRITUALITY. Spirituality for many people provides hope, peace, understanding and solace during hard times.

•           EMPLOYMENT. Employment or a meaningful activity gives many people the opportunity to regain a positive identity and a sense of purpose and value.

•           MEDICATION. Most people in recovery from mental illness include medication in their recovery plan. At the same time, many people struggle with finding the right medication and with the possible side effects of medication. The recovery process includes developing a partnership with treatment providers so that these quality-of-life issues can be discussed openly.

In 2002, President George W. Bush established the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health as part of his commitment to eliminate inequality for Americans with disabilities. He asked the Commission to study the mental health system in the United States and to offer advice on how to improve it. The Commission made many recommendations, all of which center around a belief in recovery. Click here for the Commission’s final report.

People with mental health disorders began writing about their experiences with recovery long before the Commission published its final report. One well-known writer is Pat Deegan, a clinical psychologist who was first diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teen. In 1996, Pat Deegan spoke at the Sixth Annual Mental Health Services Conference of Australia and New Zealand about “Recovery and the Conspiracy of Hope.” She states, “The concept of recovery differs from that of rehabilitation in as much as it emphasizes that people are responsible for their own lives and that we can take a stand toward our disability and what is distressing to us. We need not be passive victims. We need not be ‘afflicted.’ We can become responsible agents in our own recovery process. Recovery often involves a transformation of the self wherein one both accepts ones limitation and discovers a new world of possibility. This is the paradox of recovery, i.e., that in accepting what we cannot do or be, we begin to discover who we can be and what we can do. Thus, recovery is a process. It is a way of life.” The entire speech can be read here:

More ideas about recovery:

•           Recovery can happen even if symptoms continue.

•           Recovery may not mean “cured” but will change the frequency and duration of symptoms.

•           Recovery requires people who believe in and stand by the person in recovery.

•           Recovery is wellness-focused, not illness-focused.

•           Recovery revolves around consumer choice.

•           Recovery from the consequences of a mental health disorder can be more challenging than recovery from the symptoms.

•           Recovery is not a product of sheer willpower but rather the result of a consumer’s carefully chosen and wielded tools of recovery, including options such as the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP®), BRIDGES, support groups, education and medication, to name a few.

•           Recovery can occur without professional intervention.



Recovery Innovations of Arizona's Recovery Opportunity Center publishes a great definition of recovery in their "Peer Employment Training Manual" (2007):

"Recovery is remembering who you are and using your strengths to become all that you were meant to be."