Mental Health Recovery
What is Recovery?
Stages of personal recovery
Personal recovery is a journey of growth and change that is seldom an overnight excursion. Instead, we proceed on an individualized path through five common stages, often over months or years.
Courtesy Scottish Recovery Network.
For decades, the question of recovery has been debated by clinicians and by people who experience mental health challenges, with often differing opinions. The dialog has been fruitful and we are beginning to reach common ground.
Clinical recovery vs. personal recovery
Most medical professionals focus on clinical recovery, with a goal of relieving specific mental health symptoms. If prescribed treatment significantly reduces or eliminates these symptoms, doctors usually consider the person to be living in recovery.
People experiencing mental health issues agree that clinical recovery is vitally important. But, they often focus on wellness at a much broader human scale. They are not just looking for symptom reduction, but for greater well-being: enhanced social functioning, self-determination, and a sense of purpose. They look beyond outward intervention to something inward, something very personal. They also want to be active partners with their practitioners, not just recipients of care. To them, recovery isn’t just clinical - their recovery is personal recovery.
"... Personal recovery is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed and fulfilling life, work toward a meaningful purpose, and create loving and supportive relationships, even if some limitations persist..."
Why is this expanded definition of personal recovery important?
Because serious mental illness can do harm far beyond the mental health symptoms. It threatens our personhood and our sense of self, and can affect every facet of our lives and the lives of those around us. Because the impact is that expansive, we need an expansive definition of recovery.
Fundamentals of recovery
We make the following assertions about recovery.
Seek personal recovery. People want personal recovery. It often starts with, but isn’t limited to the relief of clinical symptoms.
Persistent effort. Those who seek personal recovery must work diligently to create it. There is no free lunch. We also must be patient, realizing that setbacks are a part of the journey.
Self-determination. This is your life. Trust yourself. No one can recover for you, but acting alone is often ill-advised. Doctors, therapists, family, and others can be important supporters and guides, so collaboration with them can be key.
Expect Recovery. Why? Because non-drug approaches are supported by extensive scientific evidence and countless positive case studies. A positive expectation can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy, since it motivates us to take the necessary steps to create our own recovery.
Think beyond drugs. Psychotropic drugs alone are insufficient. They can be very helpful in reducing some symptoms, but non-drug approaches are necessary.
Your unique journey
There is no cookie-cutter approach to mental health recovery. And the journey offers few shortcuts. But, there are clear maps that mark the way, written in the sweat of thousands who have faced similar challenges and recovered.
Stage 1 - Distress.
Journeys often start with a sense of chaos and dependency. Sometimes a crisis triggers them, and we begin to feel a sense of denial, confusion, hopelessness, and withdrawal. We may feel that we’ve lost our self-identity.
Stage 2 - Awareness.
In this stage, we shift from distress to self-examination. We look at the causes or our situation and assess our personal strengths, weaknesses, needs, passions, and challenges. This is a time to rebuild our self-image. To move forward from this stage, it helps to adopt 3 perspectives:
Accept that change is needed.
Believe that change is possible, even probable. This isn’t wishful thinking. It’s pragmatic realism.
Commit to the work needed for change. This requires self-determination. We aren’t “going it alone,” although we do need confident self-leadership.
With this awareness, we reach a turning point, from hopelessness to hopefulness. We are no longer dependent; we can navigate our route to recovery—with qualified help. We coalesce energy to being the hard work ahead.
Stage 3 - Preparation.
In this stage we set goals, learn about recovery options and treatments, and become willing to experiment with different recovery techniques. We also need to connect with people who can help.
Stage 4 - Rebuilding.
Once we’ve prepared ourselves, the action begins. The rebuilding stage involves doing—working toward goals and actively managing the process of recovery. Although we’ll be experimenting with approaches that have proven track records, we may face setbacks as we seek the best treatments for our own situation. Along the way, we need to work hard to solidify our relationships—with caregivers, friends, and family members. This stage requires resilience and independence.
Stage 5 - Maintenance.
This is the final stage of recovery, when we’ve reached a state of well-being. We have accepted who we are, and we have established autonomy, positive relationships, and a new sense of purpose. We commit to sustaining this state. Even if some issues still exist, we know that we can live rich and meaningful lives, that we can actively respond to setbacks, and we can maintain a positive attitude about our future.