Building Blocks of Recovery Copy

Recovery is a word often given two meanings.

Clinical recovery – which in the traditional sense involves achievement of abstinence or sobriety, getting rid of mental health symptoms, restoring social functioning, and in other ways “getting back to normal.”

Personal recovery – which encompasses 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.

Full recovery generally involves both clinical recovery and personal recovery. In working toward full recovery, at times a person may be more focused on personal recovery and, at times, more on clinical recovery. This depends on what is more possible and what is more desired at the time. Importantly, the person in recovery is the ultimate decision-maker regarding the focus of recovery journey (other than where legal issues over-ride). This does not always mean that clinical or peer support staff do what the person says; clearly a worker cannot act unethically, or conspire with an individual in damaging acts.

The foundational building blocks of personal recovery were evaluated in a 2011 research study. This was the first large-scale review of the available literature on personal recovery. Results of this analysis found five areas that comprised the personal recovery experience – using the acronym CHIME.

  • Connectedness (peer support, relationships, being a part of the community)
  • Hope and optimism about the future
  • Identity (rebuilding personal sense of identity, overcoming stigma)
  • Meaning in life
  • Empowerment (personal responsibility, gaining control over one’s life)

Recovery is a Process

The recovery process helps individuals to look beyond mere survival and existence toward a meaningful life where they can achieve goals and maintain positive relationships. It is important for both the peer specialist and the person receiving services to understand that recovery is not a single accomplishment. It is a process and takes place over time, with ups and downs. This understanding helps to encourage continued commitment to recovery even when the road seems difficult.

Historically, substance use disorder treatment methods and programs have often held negative views on recovery, including focusing on client “noncompliance” and “failure.” Today, the emphasis is on “client readiness” as a key component of getting someone into services and keeping them there to be able to progress in their recovery journey.

The Stages of Change Model[ii] says most people experience a change in behavior gradually, and in stages. This model involves five stages that take a person from the beginning – learning to identify a problem behavior – to the end – living without or effectively managing the behaviors that have negatively affected his or her life. The Stages of Change model helps service providers and clients recognize their place in the change process.

People go through these stages of change at different speeds. The peer specialist can make a big difference in a person’s ability to cope within each of these stages. You will see in the table that although the language used to describe the stages of recovery is a little different for a person with either a mental health or substance use condition, the characteristics of each stage are highly similar.


Addiction Language Mental Health Language
1.     Pre-Contemplation – Having no intention to change behavior in the foreseeable future; are unaware or under-aware of problems 1.     Handling the Impact of the Illness – Being overwhelmed and confused by the illness; characterized by a deep sense of loss and hopelessness
2.     Contemplation – Aware that a problem exists and are seriously thinking about overcoming it 2.     Feeling like Life is Limited – Taking a hard look at the ways the mental health condition has affected their life
3.     Preparation – Intending to take action; taking stock of strengths and weaknesses regarding recovery; taking little steps towards changing behavior 3.     Realizing and Believing Change is Possible – Questioning the disabling power of the illness; believing that life can be better and change is possible
4.     Action – Putting into practice a plan for recovery; consciously choosing new behaviors, and developing new skills 4.     Commitment to Change – Exploring possibilities and actively working on the strategies that have been identified in a recovery plan
5.     Maintenance – Working to prevent relapse and keep the gains attained during the action stage. 5.     Actions for Change – Turning words into actions by taking steps toward achievement of and sustaining goals