What is Recovery?

Mental health problems impacts on the person who experiences them and those close to them. Recovery is a word you will hear frequently in mental health and social care. For many people, the concept of recovery is about staying in control of their life despite experiencing a mental health problem.

Although there are many perceptions and definitions of recovery, William Anthony, Director of the Boston Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation seems to have developed the cornerstone definition of mental health recovery. Anthony (1993) identifies recovery as “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.”

Professionals in the mental health sector often refer to the ‘recovery model’ to describe this way of thinking. How is this put in action by services? Mental health services working to a recovery model focus care on supporting recovery and building the resilience of people with mental health problems, not just on treating or managing their symptoms.



If someone experiences long, recurring periods of serious mental illness, does the idea of recovery still apply?


There is no single definition of the concept of recovery for people with mental health problems, but the guiding principle is hope – the belief that it is possible for someone to regain a meaningful life, despite serious mental illness. Recovery does not mean getting things back exactly to where they were before or a ‘cure’. For many people, recovery is the process of developing a new sense of self, purpose in life and hope.

Recovery is often described as a journey which is very personal. Think about recovery as how your loved one can move forward, strengthen their resilience to cope with illness and discover ways to recognize and foster their abilities, interests, aspirations and dreams.

As family, partners and friends, maintaining hope and not limiting our vision to seeing only the illness but how we can play a positive part in rebuilding a satisfying life in spite of the challenges is a vital part of recovery.

Useful links to learning more about recovery approaches and recovery stories

WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Planning)

WRAP is a self-management and recovery system originating in the US shaped by people with mental health difficulties. People are supported to create their own wellness recovery action plan, setting out their goals, what help they need to get there, what helps keep them well, and what puts their mental health at risk.
WRAP aims to:

  • increase the person’s sense of control over their mental health problems
  • increase personal empowerment
  • improve quality of life
  • assist people in achieving their own life goals and dreams

Mentalhealthcare.org.uk– an interview about the concept of recovery in mental health

Recovery Star and other resources(Mental Health Providers Forum)

ImROC (Implementing Recovery – Organisational Change)published briefings on recovery

Recovery stories from lived experience

Recovery networks links 

Scottish Recovery Network 

Recovery Devon

Research into Recovery