What is "Recovery"?

What does the term recovery mean when applied to persons with mental illness? The word recovery means “To get back: regain” or “to restore (oneself) to a normal state” (Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary, 1984). The word, recovery, has been used in the field of substance abuse where as the concept of “recovery” mean people go back to pre-drinking or pre-drugging lives. (Ralph p.7)

The president’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health defines recovery as “the process in which people are able to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities. For some individuals, recovery is the ability to live a fulfilling and productive life despite a disability. For others, recovery implies the reduction or complete remission of symptoms. Science has shown that having hope plays an integral role in an individual’s recovery.” (President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, p.5)

  • Recovery is also defined in the writings of consumers. Common themes in the writings of consumers suggest that:
  • Recovery is the re-awakening of hope after despair.
  • Recovery is breaking through denial and achieving understanding and acceptance.
  • Recovery is moving from withdrawal to engagement and active participation in life.
  • Recovery is active coping rather than passive adjustment.
  • Recovery means no longer viewing oneself primarily as a mental patient and reclaiming a positive sense of self.
  • Recovery is a journey from alienation to purpose.
  • Recovery is a complex journey.
  • Recovery is not accomplished alone – it involves support and partnership.
    (Mental Health Recovery: What Helps and What Hinders? P. 7)

For me, my humble and personal definition of recovery is the process, the journey, which I took and take each day towards getting and keeping a life. A life that is full of hope, promise, and joy. A life where I am engaged in the community, have friends and supports and have a means to financially support myself. The end of symptoms is not always equal to recovery. You can still have symptoms and manage your life.
Some common principals of recovery are: Hope, Personal responsibility, Education, Self-advocacy, and support.

Ultimately, each person develops their own definition of recovery. A definition that is unique to one’s own circumstances, life goals and desires. One based on their own hopes and dreams. A definition of recovery is fluid and may change over time. Recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the shattering effects of a psychiatric disability. 0.0.0.


The Recovery Process


Recovery from mental illness is about getting a life again.

Recovery starts with small steps as you re-build your hope and confidence. Moving from feeling powerless to feeling in charge of your life takes time. But as you progress, you’ll be able to set and reach your goals. Then anything becomes possible.

The journey of recovery is not always simple. It varies from person to person and presents many challenges. While everyone must find their own way, here are some good suggestions on how to get started in recovery.

  • Arrange for treatment and support services.
  • Reach out to others for support.
  • Get educated about your illness.
  • Set goals for your future.



Recovery is a journey of healing and transformation where you gain control over your life and the direction you want your life to go.

Recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose as you grow beyond the impact of diagnosis.



The belief that you have the ability, the opportunity, and the supports to engage in the recovery process and develop your meaning and purpose in life.



5 Stages in the Recovery Process


Recovery recognizes and supports each person’s ability to recover from emotional distress and or mental illness. There are several models or systems that can be used to describe the recovery process. The Michigan Peer Support Specialist Training Program teaches the following 5 stage model of recovery. These stages may or may not occur in a linear fashion.


  1. IMPACT OF ILLNESSThe person is overwhelmed by the disabling power of the illness. The role of services is to decrease the emotional distress by reducing the symptoms and communicating that there is life after diagnosis. The danger is that the person will re-define themselves in mental illness terminology that will automatically limit their future.
  2. LIFE IS LIMITED…The person has given in to the disabling power of the illness. The role of services is to instill hope and a sense of possibility and to rebuild a positive self-image. The danger is that the person will have identified so strongly with the negative stigma that they cannot see any possibility of recovery.
  3. CHANGE IS POSSIBLE…Thee person is questioning the disabling power of the illness. The role of services is to help the person see that they are not so limited by the illness and in order to move on they will need to take some risks. The danger is that the person will be afraid to or discouraged from taking the necessary risks and may remain in the “life is limited” stage.
  4. COMMITMENT TO CHANGE…The person is challenging the disabling power of the illness. The role of services is to help the person identify their strengths and needs in terms of skills, resources, and supports. The danger is that the person will not get the necessary skills, resources, and supports that they need to do what they want to do and may not succeed in moving forward.
  5. ACTIONS FOR CHANGE…The person is moving beyond the disabling power of the illness. The role of services is to help the person trust in their own decision-making ability and take more and more responsibility for their life. The danger is that the person will begin to doubt their ability to function on their own and revert back to a life lived in the system.