Definitions of Recovery

Definitions & Key Principles of Recovery

There is no single, unifying, definition of recovery but people with experience of mental health difficulties and professionals who have worked with people who experience difficulties have put forward their understanding of the concept.

Patricia Deegan, an American service user and psychologist, wrote the following about her experiences of mental health difficulties:

Recovery refers to the lived or real life experience of people as they accept and overcome the challenge of the disability… they experience themselves as recovering a new sense of self and of purpose within and beyond the limits of the disability (1988, p.11).

William Anthony, a Professor Emeritus at the Boston University Centre for Psychiatric Rehabilitation and a pioneer in understanding the radical implications of the recovery vision for mental health services, put forward probably the most widely used definition of recovery; he describes it 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 within the limitations caused by illness. Recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness (1993, p.21).

Clinical Recovery and Personal Recovery

Mike Slade, a Clinical Psychologist and researcher in the area of mental health recovery, has used the term “clinical recovery” to distinguish between the traditional definition of recovery as symptom alleviation and “personal recovery” for this new understanding.

Slade (2009) proposes that while clinical recovery focuses on the elimination of symptoms and returning the individual to a previous state of health, personal recovery is not specifically concerned with symptom alleviation.

Instead, personal recovery is viewed as a deeply personal and unique process by which people who experience mental health difficulties use their personal strengths and the resources in their lives to develop a positive identity and a personally satisfying life, even if they continue to experience difficulties; or more succinctly put, “recovery involves living as well as possible” (SLAM, 2010).

This is not to say that symptom alleviation (i.e. clinical recovery) cannot form part of a person’s recovery, on the contrary, it can be integral to a person’s recovery but only if it is chosen by the person as something they want; in this way, recovery is unique for each person.