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Recovery Psychology

The recovery model, recovery approach, or psychological recovery is a methodology regarding mental illness or substance abuse that emphasizes and supports a person’s potential for recovery.

Recovery is generally seen in this model (compared to the medical model) as a personal passage rather than an established conclusion. It may involve developing coping skills, empowerment, hope, self-assurance, supportive relationships, and social inclusion.

Mental Health Recovery Defined

In 1993, William Anthony, director of the Boston Centre for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, defined mental health 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,” he added.

As the discovery of psychiatric drugs and deinstitutionalization in the mid-20th century put more individuals with mental illness back into the public, an emphasis on mental health arose.

The resulting perception that society failed to adequately support social inclusion, led to mental health growing as a social movement and to studies showing that mental health patients can recover.

Part of the Mental Health System

The recovery approach is now a leading standard utilized by mental health professionals for addiction treatment as a part of national policies around the world, although some don’t use the term recovery.

As a part of recovery psychology, standardized measures have been developed to assess a variety of aspects of recovery. There is some variation between the medical model and the recovery model in these.

History of Recovery Psychology

In general medicine and psychiatry, recovery has long referred to the end of a particular occurrence of an illness. Recovery as a philosophy and medical model was first popularized in regard to recovery from substance abuse/drug addiction.

Application of recovery psychology models to mental illness is comparatively recent. In 1840, John Perceval, son of a British prime minister, wrote of his personal recovery from psychosis, a recovery that he made despite questionable treatment by what passed for mental health care at the time.

The main impetus for development of mental health psychology came from within a grassroots self-help and advocacy initiative, particularly among mental health professionals within the U.S. mental health system during the final years of the 20th century.

American professional recovery literature, especially regarding psychiatric rehabilitation, began to incorporate the recovery model in the early 1990s.

Major Mental Illness Studies

Developments in mental health recovery were fueled by a number of long-term outcome studies of patients with major mental illnesses, including landmark studies by the World Health Organization, showing unexpectedly high rates of complete or partial recovery from mental health illness.

The cumulative impact of personal recovery stories has also been a powerful force behind the development of recovery approaches and mental health policies. A key issue became how consumers could maintain the ownership and authenticity of recovery concepts while also supporting them in professional policy and practice.

Recovery became both a subject of mental health services research and a term emblematic of many of the goals of the Consumer/Survivor/Ex-Patient Movement. The concept of recovery was often defined and applied differently by consumers/survivors and professionals. Specific policy and clinical strategies were developed to implement recovery principles while key questions remained unanswered.

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is a branch of psychology focused on the character strengths and behaviors that allow individuals to build a life of meaning and purpose—to move beyond surviving to wellness and flourishing.

Theorists and researchers in the field of positive psychology have sought to identify the elements of a good life. They have also proposed and tested practices for improving life satisfaction, self-esteem, mental health, and well-being.

Positive psychology emphasizes meaning and deep satisfaction, not just temporary positive thoughts.

Positive psychologists have explored a range of experiences and behaviors involved in different versions of positive living, including specific positive emotions and sense of meaning or purpose.

What Are Benefits of Positive Psychology?

Research suggests that practices associated with positive psychology, such as gratitude interventions, can boost social and emotional well-being.

Positive psychology has also led to explorations of how developing certain character strengths, positive emotions (for example, awe), and other qualities, such as a sense of meaning and purpose in life, might contribute to positive life-affirming outcomes.

What Are Criticisms of Positive Psychology

Among the critiques of positive psychology are that it has focused on positive experiences at the expense of essential “negative” ones and that certain concepts (for example, character strengths) may insufficiently well-defined or re-describe existing scientific concepts.

Positive Psychology and Recovery

Despite tremendous growth in both positive psychology and the recovery culture that has led to parallel social movements, there is little research linking positive psychology to substance use, addiction treatment, and recovery.

What is Recovery?

Recovery from mental illness and/or substance use disorders is defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as, “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self- directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.

SAMHSA further delineated four major dimensions that support a life in recovery:


Overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) or symptoms—for example, abstaining from use of addictive substances if one has an active addiction—and, for everyone in recovery, making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional wellbeing.


A stable and safe place to live that supports well-being and mental health.


Meaningful daily activities, such as work, education or family support, or creative activities, and the independence, income, and resources to participate in society


Relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope. (“SAMHSA’s Working …,” 2012)

SAMHSA’s Ten Guiding Principles of Recovery

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has developed ten guiding principles of recovery.

Recovery emerges from hope

The belief that recovery is real provides the essential and motivating message of a better future—that people can and do overcome the internal and external challenges, barriers, and obstacles that confront them.

Hope is internalized and can be fostered by peers, families, providers, allies, and others. Hope is the catalyst of the recovery process.

Recovery is person-driven

Self-determination and self-direction are the foundations for person-driven recovery. Individuals define their own life goals and design unique path(s) towards those goals.

Individuals place more emphasis on autonomy and independence by controlling and exercising choice over the services and supports that assist their recovery. In so doing, they are empowered and provided the resources to make informed decisions, initiate recovery, build on their strengths, and gain or regain control over their lives.

Recovery occurs via many pathways

Individuals are unique with distinct needs, strengths, preferences, goals, culture, and backgrounds—including trauma experience—that affect and determine their pathway(s) to recovery. Recovery Is built on the multiple capacities, strengths, talents, coping abilities, resources, and inherent value of each individual.

Recovery-oriented pathways are highly personalized. They may include professional clinical treatment; use of medications; support from families and in schools; faith-based approaches; peer support; and other approaches.

Recovery is non-linear, characterized by continual growth and improved functioning that may involve setbacks. Because setbacks are a natural, though not inevitable, part of the recovery process, it is essential to foster resilience for all individuals and families.

Abstinence from the use of alcohol, illicit drugs, and non-prescribed medications is the goal for those with addictions. Use of tobacco and non-prescribed or illicit drugs is not safe for anyone.

In some cases, recovery pathways can be enabled by creating a supportive and understanding environment. This is especially true for children, who may not have the legal or developmental ability to self-direct.

Recovery is holistic

Recovery encompasses an individual’s whole life, including mind, body, spirit, and community.

This includes addressing self-care practices, family, home, job, transportation, school, clinical psychology therapy, services and supports, primary healthcare, dental care, complementary and alternative services, faith, spirituality, creativity, social networks, and community participation.

The array of services and supports available for a person with mental illness should be integrated and coordinated.

Recovery is supported by peers and allies

Mutual support and mutual aid groups, including the sharing of experiential Knowledge and skills, as well as social learning, play an invaluable role in recovery. Peers encourage and engage other peers and provide each other with a vital sense of belonging, supportive relationships, valued roles, and community.

Through helping others and giving back to the community, one helps oneself. Peer-operated supports and services provide important resources to assist people along their journeys of recovery and wellness. Professionals can also play an important role in the recovery process by providing clinical care and other services that support a person in their chosen recovery paths.

While peers and allies play an important role for many in recovery, their role for children and youth may be slightly different. Peer supports for families are very important for children with behavioral health problems and can also play a supportive role for youth in recovery.

Recovery is supported through relationship and social networks

An important factor in the recovery process is the presence and involvement of people who believe in the person’s ability to recover; who offer hope, support, and encouragement; and who also suggest strategies and resources for change. Family members, peers, providers, faith groups, community members, and other allies form vital support networks.

Through these relationships, people leave unhealthy and/or unfulfilling life roles behind and engage in new roles (e.g., partner, caregiver, friend, student, employee) that lead to a greater sense of belonging, personhood, empowerment, autonomy, social inclusion, and community participation.

Recovery is culturally-based and influenced

Culture and cultural background in all of its diverse representations— including values, traditions, and beliefs—are keys in determining a person’s journey and unique pathway to recovery. Services should be culturally grounded, attuned, sensitive, congruent, and competent, as well as personalized to meet each Individual’s unique needs.

Recovery is supported by addressing trauma

The experience of trauma (such as physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence, war, disaster, and others) is often a precursor to or associated with alcohol and drug use, mental health problems, and related issues. Services and supports should be trauma-informed to foster safety (physical and emotional) and trust, as well as promote choice, empowerment, and collaboration.

Recovery involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibility

Individuals, families, and communities have strengths and resources that serve as a foundation for recovery. In addition, individuals have a personal responsibility for their own self-care and journeys of recovery. Individuals should be supported in speaking for themselves. Families and significant others have responsibilities to support their loved ones, especially for children and youth in recovery.

Communities have responsibilities to provide opportunities and resources to address discrimination and to foster social inclusion and recovery. Individuals in recovery also have a social responsibility and should have the ability to join with peers to speak collectively about their strengths, needs, wants, desires, and aspirations.

Recovery is based on respect

Community, systems, and societal acceptance and appreciation for people affected by mental health and substance use problems— including protecting their rights and eliminating discrimination—are crucial in achieving recovery.

There is a need to acknowledge that taking steps towards recovery may require great courage. Self- acceptance, developing a positive and meaningful sense of identity, and regaining belief in oneself are particularly important.

Drawing on research, practice, and personal experience of recovering individuals, within the context of health reform, SAMHSA will lead efforts to advance the understanding of recovery and ensure that vital recovery supports, and services are available and accessible to all who need and want them. (“SAMHSA’s Working …,” 2012)

What is Mental Health?

Mental health–our emotional, psychological, and social well-being–affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.

It is important at every stage of life, from childhood through adulthood.

Over the course of one’s life, if there are mental health issues, thoughts, mood, and behavior may be impacted.

Many factors contribute to mental health issues, including:

  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
  • Family history of mental health issues. (“What is Mental Health,” n.d.)

What is the Recovery Movement?

The recovery movement acknowledges the ability of people with mental illness to live in the mainstream of society. It grew from a number of factors, including research showing that many people eventually recover from serious mental illness.

Important to the growth of the recovery movement has been the increasing role that people in recovery from mental illness have played in advocating for person-centered care and greater self-determination for those with mental illness.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 listed serious forms of mental illness as disabilities. This lead to expansion of mental health services, enabling people with mental health issues to live at home, work, and go to school while exhibiting mental illness symptoms.

Stigma and discrimination are still problems, but mental health practice has come closer to resembling health care for other illnesses.

La Hacienda Treatment Center

For 50 years, La Hacienda Treatment Center has been treating addiction and helping each patient find healing and recovery, and the possibility of a meaningful life without substance abuse.

Our recovery-oriented services to treat addiction include a thorough health assessment, medically supervised detoxification (if needed), individual and group clinical psychology therapy, community and therapeutic activities, and continuing care planning.

Patients also receive information on relapse prevention and an in-depth introduction to the 12 steps so they can complete the program after leaving La Hacienda.

La Hacienda’s evidence-based practice of addiction treatment works. If you or someone you know needs help with a substance use disorder, phone (800) 749-6160 today and talk with one of our admission specialists.

La Hacienda’s admissions team helps persons–from those self-admitting to those coming through professional intervention–to address their active addiction and make the life-affirming decision to begin recovery.

Recovery Psychology | La Hacienda

Addictive Behavior

Addictive behavior is activity, often obsessive and destructive, related to substance abuse or active addiction and that prevents a person from living an engaged life. Such activity may include drug-seeking behavior, taking risks, and illegal acts to sustain a drug habit.

Recovery Counseling | La Hacienda

Chemical Dependency Evaluation

Before medical and clinical psychology professionals provide services to a patient suffering from active addiction, an evaluation is usually the first step. It determines which co-morbidities (including mental illness) the person may be suffering, and which therapies and treatments will work best for healing the person evaluated.

Addiction Treatment at La Hacienda | La Hacienda

Chemical Dependency Counselor

Chemical dependency counselors provide clinical psychology therapy including the use of principles, methods and procedures of active addiction treatment as defined by the profession’s ethical standards and have the knowledge, high talent, skills, and abilities necessary for the profession as defined in the Texas Administrative Code.


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012). SAMHSA’s Working Definition of Recovery: 10 Guiding Principles of Recovery. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from

U. S. Department of Health & Human Services. (n.d.). What is Mental Health? MentalHealth.Gov. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from