Recovery for Everyone

The Recovery Model is commonplace in treatment. But all can benefit.

Posted Jun 19, 2018

Photo Credit Alexi Berry, used with permission
Source: Photo Credit Alexi Berry, used with permission

Over twenty-five years ago I started in the counseling field, working in a substance abuse treatment center. The Recovery Model was commonplace in addiction treatment. It was not called that, it was simply how addiction treatment was. One of the treatment centers I worked at had a poster called, “The Twelve Steps for Everyone”. It generalized the 12-Steps of AA, NA, and other 12-step meetings, suggesting everyone can benefit. The point I’m fumbling with here follows that example: The Recovery Model, now commonplace in the treatment of mental health issues, can benefit everyone. 

A lot has been written about the recovery model, so just a brief overview will be provided here. The main focus of the recovery model is “[emphasis on] resilience and control over problems and life” (Jacob, K.S. 2015). In Smith, et al.’s article on “Applying Recovery Principles to the Treatment of Trauma”, the authors discuss how to apply nine recovery principles to those recovering from trauma. The principles are:

(1) being supported by others, including the important role of community and social support; (2) renewing hope and commitment through spirituality or other means; (3) engaging in meaningful activities through reclaiming social roles held prior to illness onset and/or identifying new ones; (4) redefining oneself by shifting the view of mental illness to include an understanding that it is only one aspect of the self, rather than all encompassing; (5) incorporating illness by accepting any limits that may persist due to mental illness; (6) overcoming stigma related to having a mental illness; (7) assuming control over treatment and choices; (8) managing symptoms; and (9) becoming empowered and exercising citizenship.  (Smith, J., et al., 2016).

It is obvious some of these principles are only applicable to those overcoming a mental health issue. However, according to Comer, “[i]n any given year, as many as 30% of adults…in the United States display serious psychological disturbances and are in need of clinical treatment” (p.7). He goes on to say, “[s]urveys suggest that nearly one of every six adults in the United States receive outpatient treatment for psychological disorders in the course of a year” (p.15). In other words, nearly a third of the population in the United States can apply the above principles to their recovery. The other 70% can still benefit from these principles. Rather than delve into each principle individually, the discussion will focus on what the recovery model looks like in practice. 

Though it seems common sense to seek support, there are a great many people who feel they cannot get the support they need for the issue they are experiencing. There may be a number of reasons for this, including a lack of trust in others or feeling shame. In Alcoholics Anonymous there is a saying: “You can’t save your butt and your face at the same time.” Seek help, get support. People are often more empathetic than is thought. For every problem there are some that can relate. If you don’t feel you can trust those around you, therapy is a viable option to start. 

Those in recovery develop hope. Many do this through redefining their beliefs or returning to old beliefs. It is often helpful to focus on personal and spiritual growth. I often recommend to clients that they read, listen to podcasts, or otherwise engage their minds on the path they have chosen. This helps keep them focused. It is easy to slip back into the rigmarole of daily life, and into old patterns of thinking. Focusing on personal and spiritual growth (even if spiritual just means being a better person to others) helps combat this.  

As I’ve written before, purpose and meaning are integral to happiness (A Guide to enlightened living, Your purpose in life). Many people, despite being busy with life’s tasks, wonder what their true purpose is. Those in recovery attempt to find purpose through activities that provide life more meaning. Sometimes this is helping others with similar issues, volunteering, or otherwise trying to make the world a better place. 

Individuals in recovery redefine themselves. Often this is simply redefining oneself as someone in recovery. This allows one to recognize he has a weakness in certain areas, and adjust his behavior accordingly. When I think of this principle related to mental illness, my focus is on how one’s mental illness affects thinking, and how, as a result, thinking cannot be trusted. This has been a focal point I’ve generalized to everyone. My last post focused on the top 20 ways anyone lies to himself. Realizing this, and other limitations, can be freeing and foster more control over one’s life.  

Assuming control over one’s life is another aspect of recovery. Many people feel their life is controlled by circumstances, and do not realize the power they enact in their life, or do not realize the choices they have. With this principle, the person works toward awareness of their options and choices. This leads to empowerment. Someone who is empowered in her life gets involved, helps others, and, as the recovery principle states, exercises citizenship. 

Another aspect of recovery is an understanding that everyone doesn’t have to walk the same path. In “SAMHSA’s Working Definition of Recovery”, the authors identify one of their ten guiding principles of recovery as “many pathways”. This recognizes that everyone is different, with different strengths and interests that will inform their path to recovery. What works for one may not work for another. 

In a class I teach five semesters a year, students are required to go to a 12-Step meeting and write a reflection paper of their experience. Without fail the majority of these papers reflect on how this recovery meeting fosters a sense of community, hope, and progress. Some discuss how these meetings could be beneficial to all. In short, many of the students seem to get that the principles of recovery can be beneficial to anyone, regardless of whether he or she has a disorder or not. 

Copyright William Berry, 2018


Comer, R.J., (2016). Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology, Ed. 8., Worth Publishers, New York, N.Y. 

Jacob, K.S. (2015). Recovery Model of Mental Illness: A Complementary Approach to Psychiatric Care, Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 2015 April-June; 37(2): 117-119, doi: 10.4103/0253-7176.155605., Retrieved from June 14th, 2018. 

SAMHSA. (2012). SAMHSA’s Working Definition of Recovery. Retrieved from June 15th 2018.

Smith, J. C., Hyman, S. M., Andres-Hyman, R. C., Ruiz, J. J., & Davidson, L. (2016, September 1). Applying Recovery Principles to the Treatment of Trauma. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Advance online publication.