About recovery
About recovery

What does personal recovery mean, and why is it so important?

There is no definitive definition of what personal recovery means because it is unique to each person. It can overcome obstacles, build resilience and resourcefulness to embrace with positivity all of the possibilities in life without being burdened by the labels and stigma associated with mental health diagnosis.

The most widely cited definition of personal recovery was written by Bill Anthony (1993):

'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. Recovery from mental illness involves much more than recovery from the illness itself.'

Rachel Perkins states:

'Recovery is…a personal journey of discovery: making sense of, and finding meaning in what has happened; discovering your own resources, resourcefulness and possibilities; building a new sense of self, meaning and purpose in life; growing within and beyond what has happened to you; and pursuing your dreams and ambitions'. (2012)

Personal recovery - recovering a life worth living - is about building a satisfying, fulfilling, and enjoyable life. A good life is about a balance between what you must do and what you want to do. It's about taking control and becoming an expert in your own wellbeing and recovery and moving on with the life you choose.

The keywords are unique and personal. At the heart of personal recovery is hope. Hope helps to maintain motivation to be able to forge forward, believing recovery is not only possible but is inevitable. As Perkins and Anthony say, it's about developing new meaning and allowing creative discovery.

Why is recovery language important?

“Words are important. The language we use and the stories we tell have great significance. They can carry a sense of hope and possibility or be associated with a sense of pessimism and low expectations. Both influence personal outcomes”

Devon Partnership Trust & Torbay Care Trust 2008, Putting Recovery at the Heart of All We Do, UK, p. 2.

“Recovery language is about creating an environment that allows all of us to be fully recognised as people. It puts the human and the person in front of the diagnosis or label of any kind”.

The Power Of Recovery Language Video - The Academy of SDSU - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U26wtQnavwI

How to use recovery-focused language

Using positive recovery-focused language is considered the best practice in mental health settings and is something that everyone can choose to do. Whether you are a student, professional, friend, family or college staff member, you can use recovery-oriented language by:

  • Understanding recovery, and how our words may positively or negatively contribute to peoples recovery, health and wellbeing
  • Being respectful, non-judgemental, and sincere
  • Using words like “mental health challenges” rather than ‘condition’, ‘issue’ or ‘problem’
  • Emphasising abilities rather than limitations
  • Encouraging people to self-manage, seek clarity and take opportunities
  • Focusing on the positives and the person’s strengths rather than what might (in your mind) be wrong
  • Using language that conveys hope, acceptance, and optimism
  • Supporting and promoting a culture of recovery
  • Avoiding making assumptions
  • Encouraging people to achieve their goals, aspirations, and next steps forward
  • Validating people’s experiences and encouraging personal expression
  • Being mindful and selective, and avoid using derogatory or demeaning language; especially when talking to people about mental health or diagnosis
  • Referring to people (including our experts by experience) as someone with a lived experience of mental health

For more detailed explanations about recovery-oriented language, please refer to the Devon Partnership Trust and Torbay Care Trust Recovery Oriented Language Guide or watch the ‘power of recovery language’ video.

What is a recovery college?

Recovery colleges offer educational courses about mental wellbeing supporting personal recovery. The ethos is to increase students' knowledge and skills and help them take control by learning self-management strategies to help their mental health and wellbeing. The concept emerged through recognition of people being experts in their own care and their views should be central to their recovery journey.

The recovery college model operates on college principles and is solely focused on educational programmes, contrasting with therapeutic services provided within mainstream health services.

New Leaf Recovery and Wellbeing College is passionate about making sure students are placed at the centre of all we do. Within the college we do all we can to build on people's strengths and support people to move from 'patient' to 'student' and sometimes 'teacher'. We work together collaboratively at every level, assisting the individual in their personal recovery journey to share and empower others in their personal recovery.

At the college, we offer hope for the future despite life's challenges, opportunity, learning from other students' experiences and control. We equip students with the skills to make changes to support their wellbeing. The college is not somewhere to obtain qualifications but to learn self-management and personal development.

The core principles of the college are: -

  • Partnership and co-production
  • Educational - encouraging self-management
  • Strengths-based and person-centred
  • For everyone - people with health challenges, their relatives/carers and staff
  • Helping people identify and reach their own goals.

Why is co-production so important

Co-production means people with lived experience influence the way that the college is designed, commissioned and delivered.

Co-production is at the heart of the college. Co-production makes sure people with lived experience are equal partners alongside a range of other stakeholders, recognising they have experience and, therefore, knowledge, which is used to develop services or in this case, courses or programs that benefits all (Realpe and Wallace 2010, Boyle &Harris 2009). It recognises that people who experience mental health challenges are experts and provide adult education opportunities (as opposed to therapeutic interventions), providing added benefits in sustaining a good level of well-being and resilience. It emphasises a mutual relationship between all, requiring a shift in power relationships (McGregor, Repper & Brown 2014).

What this means in practice – in the college, we hold co-production sessions with lived and subject experts to develop any new course. When the content is agreed upon, they are jointly run, placing shared values of both subject and lived experience. We recognise how powerful individual stories can be to inspire, educate and show possibilities of hope and a very individual path that can develop.


Bandura, Albert (1982). "Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency". American Psychologist. 37 (2): 122–147. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.37.2.122.

Boyle D and Harris M (2009) The challenge of co-production: how equal partnerships between professionals and the public are crucial to improving public services, London: Nesta

McGregor, J.Repper, J. and Brown, H. (2014), "“The college is so different from anything I have done”. A study of the characteristics of Nottingham Recovery College", The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 3-15.

Realpe, Alba and Wallace, Louise M. (2010) What is co-production? London: The Health Foundation.

Recovery from mental illness: the guiding vision of the mental health system in the 1990s, Psychosocial Rehabilitation Journal, 16(4), April 1993, 11-23.)

Repper, J. & Perkins, R. (2012) Recovery: A journey of discovery for individuals and services, in Phillips, P., Sandford, T, & Johnston, C. (Ed) Working in Mental Health: Practice and policy in a changing environment, Oxford:Routledge

Devon Partnership Trust & Torbay Care Trust 2008, Putting Recovery at the Heart of All We Do, UK, p. 2.

The Power Of Recovery Language Video - The Academy of SDSU - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U26wtQnavwI


See stories from students we've helped

Read testimonials and watch inspiring videos from the students who have joined the college. Find out how their wellbeing has improved since joining.