Personal Recovery Characteristics

Characteristics of Personal Recovery

Personal Recovery is a Process Unique to Each Person

In the same way each of us has different interests and goals in life, personal recovery is seen as a unique process that is different for everyone and is defined by each individual person.

This sentiment is echoed by Professor Agnes Higgins, Head of the School of Nursing & Midwifery at Trinity College Dublin, who states that “what recovery means for a person is best defined by the individual within the context of their personal wishes, dreams, and capabilities” (2008, p.8) and is captured by the Scottish Recovery Network (SRN) when they define personal recovery as being: to live a life, as defined by each person, in the presence or absence of symptoms. It is about having control over and input into one’s own life. Each individual’s recovery, like his or her experience of the mental health problems or illness, is a unique and deeply personal process. It is important to be clear that there is no right or wrong way to recover.

Personal Recovery Starts with Hope

Hope is a sense or belief that something that is desired by a person can be obtained or achieved.  Critically, having a sense of hope is a theme that consistently emerges as an integral part of personal recovery, described by many people as the starting point of their recovery.  

For those of us who have been diagnosed with mental illness and who have lived in the sometimes desolate wastelands of mental health programmes and institutions, hope is not a nice sounding euphemism. It is a matter of life and death - Patricia Deegan (1996).
My experiences, as well as the experiences of others…have taught me that regardless of the cause(s) of mental illness, progress toward recovery cannot occur when there is no hope. – Marcia Lovejoy (1982, p. 608).

Personal Recovery is a Journey of Discovery

Personal Recovery is frequently described as a non-linear “journey” or a “journey of discovery”. For example, two persons with lived experience of mental health difficulties with the Scottish Recovery Network (SRN) ‘Journey of Recovery’ publication (2006) describe how:

Recovery for me is a discovery of self, or an on-going spiritual journey to find who you really are.
I see recovery more as a personal journey of discovery...The route to recovery is not a straight line. And in my experience this may mean going off in directions that might not look all that productive at the time.

Personal Recovery is an On-going Process

Although the traditional meaning of clinical recovery implies an end-goal or something to achieve, personal recovery is often seen as an on-going process:

I recognise that recovery is on-going; it’s not something that comes to an end, and it’s on-going for me certainly. - SRN, personal quote (2006).
Recovery is not an end-point but a continuing journey: people are not ‘recovered’, they are ‘recovering’.” - Julie Repper & Rachel Perkins (p. 59, 2003).

Personal Recovery involves Maintaining or Developing a Healthy Self-Identity

For some, the lines between their mental health difficulties and their sense of who they are become blurred. Instead of seeing themselves as a person in their own right who experience difficulties, the difficulties can take centre-stage and dominate a person’s sense of identity.

For many people, personal recovery involves the restoration of a positive and fuller self-identity in which mental health difficulties are viewed as one part of a person’s overall life and the person is not defined by them.

Personal Recovery Involves Empowerment and Having Control

When people experience mental health difficulties they may find themselves in a passive role within the mental health system and/or within their social lives. This may occur as a result of stigma attached to a mental health diagnosis, from others taking control from them or not listening to what they want, or from their own belief that they are not capable of making their own decisions anymore.

Whatever the cause, losing control and not being free to make decisions about things that affect their own lives is extremely disempowering and can lead people to miss out on opportunities and become held back from pursuing desired goals.

As personal recovery is defined by, and unique to, each individual, becoming empowered and taking control of the decisions that affect their lives is crucial.

I’ve found that in spite of my illness I can still contribute and have an input into what goes on in my life, input that is not necessarily tied up with medication, my mental illness or other illnesses. (SRN-personal quote, 2006).

Personal Recovery Involves Realising Strengths

Experiencing mental health difficulties may lead some people to focus primarily on what’s not going well for them. For these people it is important that they build their awareness of the positives in their lives, like their personal strengths such as hope and resilience, as well as environmental strengths such as positive relationships, good housing, or supportive mental health services.

This is not to suggest that a person should forget about things that aren’t going well but simply that by becoming more aware of their strengths each person may find resources that can support their personal recovery journey.

Recovery Involves a ‘Whole Person, Whole Life’ Approach.

Personal recovery does not occur in a vacuum but in the context of a person’s overall life circumstances. If recovery is defined as the development of psychological and social wellbeing, it is more likely to flourish if nourished by factors such as having enough money in your pocket and supportive relationships, services and communities.

Therefore, personal recovery can be thought of not just as a psychological process but one that is also influenced by material and social factors in a person’s life. This wider perspective is consistent with the approaches adopted in health promotion and population health models.