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Recovery Model

The recovery approach is a philosophy that came to fruition during the latter half of the 20th century. It was a result of the “de-institutionalization” that happened across the country, as well as the civil rights movement.


The term “recovery” has been around a long time in the field of general medicine. It refers to the end of an illness. The idea of “recovery” as a concept and philosophy came about with the creation of 12 step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. It was not until the late 1980s into the 1990s that the concept and philosophy were applied to mental health.

It was integrated into mental health by a grassroots movement, made up of consumers, survivors and ex-patients of the mental health system that felt it was time for a change.


The recovery approach began to be used during the time of “de-institutionalization”. This is when the psychiatric establishments began closing their doors and their patients found their way back into the community. These patients who were once doomed to remain in the psychiatric facilities their whole lives under the watchful eyes of their doctors and nurses were now able to lead somewhat “normal” lives. The medical model which they had grown so accustomed to would no longer work as it had, due to the changing environments and situations that they found themselves in. The recovery model recognized that these ex-patients and survivors now had their own paths to recovery.

The elements of the recovery model are what help to guide the individual down his or her own path. They are: finding meaning, developing coping strategies, empowerment and inclusion, developing and maintaining supportive relationships, discovery of one’s self, developing a secure base and finding hope in that you will recover.

Sick woman taking her pills at home


As the recovery models is fairly subjective, it is hard to judge its efficacy. Many of the survivors and ex-patients who were a result of the de-institutionalization of the 1960s have moved on to find their places in their own respective communities. However, many found themselves in and out of prison as well as living homeless on the street.


There have been many criticisms of the recovery model. One criticism is that the name itself implies that there is going to be an end to the mental health issue. This is exactly what the traditional medical model implies as well. As most people with mental health issues know they will never be “cured” per se, but they can manage to control and live with their issues. Another criticism is around the fact that there is no set definition of the recovery model so professionals are able to manipulate it as they see fit. In effect, this makes it no longer about the patient’s needs but about what the professional feels is best for them (like the old medical model). Another criticism is that the recovery model was made by the middle class and, therefore, is designed to work best for the middle class. It does not take into account those who are in the lower classes who are sometimes more likely to have mental health issues as a result of the stress of day-to-day living (i.e. not having enough money, barely getting by, being homeless).

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