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Journey of recovery

Navigating the 10 steps of recovery

Although everyone's journey of mental health recovery is unique, the high-level roadmap is often very similar. Consider this 10-step process for your journey. 


Although stabilization (step 1) is often achieved with psychiatric drugs, increasingly, non-drug approaches are proving effective. Peer respites typically rely less on drugs and provide a home-like environment that most people strongly prefer to hospitals. For first-episode psychosis, Open Dialog is proving very effective, using little or no drugs.


Creating a stable, supportive, and healthy haven of support (step 2) is key. Such havens are secure and predictable living environments that provide or encourage proper diet, exercise, sleep, positive social interaction, self-determination, purposeful living and more - since these all have a very direct impact on mental health. Havens provide a solid foundation for recovery.


Engage practitioners and supporters (step 3) to bring vital expertise and humanity to your situation. This may include a variety of practitioners including peer support specialists. Integrative mental health practitioners - those that value both conventional approaches as well as a variety of complementary and alternative approaches - offer the widest menu of recovery options.


Research shows that engaging people with the right attitude - ones that believe in, expect, and vigorously work toward recovery - is associated with higher recovery rates. [1] The person seeking recovery should also hold this attitude, since it is a catalyst to doing the work needed for recovery, and is associated with better outcomes. [2]


Educate yourself (step 4)  to develop mental health recovery competencies that will aid your recovery. Consider the book, Choices in Recovery, as well integrative mental health organizations, resources, and more detailed tools.


Biomedical testing (step 5) by trained biomedical practitioners, and psychological evaluation (step 6) are rarely performed well and should be an area of heightened focus. This is where possible root causes may be identified to help enable not only symptom relief, but healing.


Do the essentials that contribute to mental health (step 7). Address lifestyle choices that are out of balance. Find a safe home, connect with people, eat well, reduce stress, sleep regularly,  and find creative, uplifting activities. Don’t try to take on too much at once, though, while you find the motivation to develop new daily habits that will help you make changes that you can sustain. 

Success through non-drug experimentation

The testimony of thousands of people who have recovered from mental health issues is this: although drugs may be helpful, success is rarely found without prudent experimentation with non-drug options, guided by trusted practitioners.  


In addition, self-determination should be considered essential to recovery. This is affirmed by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association: “Self-determination and self-direction are the foundations for recovery, as individuals define their own life goals and design their unique path(s) towards those goals.” [3]  Although it is important to evaluate and accept support from both practitioners and your personal network when needed, no one can recover for you.


Recovery takes time - often months or years - so the bulk of your time is often spent in steps 7-9 where you move to increased wellness. Once you have built up sufficient strength and stability, consider paying it forward (step 10) by helping other people in similar situations. It can be a tremendously rewarding and valuable experience for both you and those you help. 


[1]  Luther L, Expectancies of success as a predictor of negative symptoms reduction over 18 months in individuals with schizophrenia, Psychiatry Res, 2015,

[2]  Meyer B et al., Treatment expectancies, patient alliance and outcome: Further analyses from the National Institute of Mental Health Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2002, PMID: 12182269.

[3]  SAMHSA, Working Definition of Recovery,



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