What is Recovery?


What does the term ‘recovery’ mean? I have seen with the psychiatric establishment, that if a person conforms, accepts their oppression, and agrees to being a life long consumer of toxic drugs, holds mediocre employment (if that), they are said to be recovered. And the premise is that they have a dysfunctional brain that requires the lifelong intervention of psychiatry. This runs completely counter to my experience. I recall a study in Kings County, NY where of 900 of those involved in the mental health system, only 5, yes 5, had viable employment, yet many were said to be ‘recovered. Because something can be scientifically validated does not mean it is ethical or good. One could validate many coercive practices. We must enter the realm where we realize that mental health is highly dependent upon our response to issues of social justice. Science must be linked with a strong sense of ethics and respect for the dignity and liberty of persons. Ethics must always proceed technology. Psychiatrists have often completely misunderstood what the term recovery really means. It does not mean being a lifelong consumer of toxic psychiatric drugs. The psychiatric establishment’s idea of recovery is based on suppression which leads to oppression. Recovery involves understanding the oppressive systems that has led one to develop ways of living in an unlivable situation. Recovery involves journeying into our common human experience. Recovery involves coming from that point of breakdown, to a point of breakthrough by understanding the dynamics which one has reacted to. Recovery involves a restoration of meaning and purpose to those who may have become lost along the way. Recovery involves compassion and acceptance. Recovery involves pain, but transforming that pain where we can share our experience with others. Recovery involves our willingness to listen to the other, to be with the other, to decipher metaphorical language. Recovery involves an awakening. Recovery involves society’s response to those events and problems which lead people to distress. Recovery involves understanding. It is a beautiful process requiring time, reflection, sharing, and compassion.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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Dan Edmunds, EdD
Dr. Dan L. Edmunds is an existential psychoanalyst and psychotherapist in Northeastern Pennsylvania. His work has focused on drug free, relational approaches for those undergoing extreme states of mind as well as autism and developmental differences. Dr. Edmunds is the founder of the Center for Humane Psychiatry, an emancipatory movement for human rights in the mental health system. Dr. Edmunds has advocated for psycho-social approaches for those in distress that are affordable and accessible. Dr. Edmunds developed a therapeutic community project and is involved with autism acceptance and the autistic rights movement. Dr. Edmunds is the author of BEING AUTISTIC: AN APPROACH TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING AND ACCEPTANCE; THEY SAY MY CHILD HAS ADHD: DEBUNKING THE BIO-PSYCHIATRIC PARADIGM; THE MEETING OF TWO PERSONS; and MYSTICAL METAPHORS. Dr. Edmunds is a frequent speaker on critical psychology issues.


  1. As soon as psychiatry makes mention of the brain, that is when the spotlight or focus is removed from psychiatry, which is philosophy/Morality, and then placed in the medical field of the specialty known as neurology. It, neurology, is the rightful field that specializes in disorders of the brain. As most anyone know’s, the mind and the brain are not synonymous.

    • I don’t care what psychiatry’s definition of recovery is.

      The moment you start accepting psychiatry’s “definition” of ANYTHING is the moment you sign your own death warrant.

      If you take your cues from mainstream mental health in ANY respect, expect death and disablement.

  2. Here in Reading in the UK the services talk of the Recovery Agenda. So far they have not spelt out how that effects their practices. As far as I can see it has not effected their practices except maybe they no longer advice those who are seriously distressed to not look for work as work can be stressful – but then again they aren’t encouraging people to get work either.

    In other parts of the country they encourage going back to work while, “Stabilised,” on medication and then doing some, “Anti-stigma,” work with employers. I don’t think anyone has done any outcome studies on this approach but I don’t expect it to work for many people and it is not something I would want to go along with, in fact I’d want to protest against it.

    What the author describes is the tentative, difficult, often painful but rewarding process of getting to know someone who is seriously distressed. It is the only thing that works for me when I want to help someone in emotional anguish and it is the only thing that has really helped me.

    I salute him.

    • Here in Britain the “recovery team” was actively discouraging my son to go back to university or to look for a “proper job” ( He has a degree in plant and animal biology and two MSCs- one in medical biology). He came off his medication without their permission and all they were doing is watching him for a “relapse” while brainwashing him behind my back into believing that he had a mental illness and that he will never be really cured.I was contesting their “diagnosis”, so the nurse in charge took him out to “work on him ” when I wasn’t there. He told me everything afterwards. So much for “recovery” in the British mental health system.

  3. I have written elsewhere about how the mental health system wants to define recovery as “doing a bit better, but still mentally ill.” See http://recoveryfromschizophrenia.org/recovery-why-is-it-being-redefined-to-mean-doing-better-but-still-mentally-ill/

    Orienting the mental health system around full recovery would mean totally transforming it, as it would require that we prioritize approaches that see any disturbance as potentially temporary and which attempt to only use treatments that can eventually made obsolete, rather than prioritizing drugs that induce dependency.

  4. I find the term “recovery” problematic in the context of psychiatry, as it implies a brain disease, which, as Kevin Neslund points out in comments above, would be the province of neurology, not psychiatry. As a trauma survivor, it makes sense to me to think of healing from a psychic injury that was perpetrated upon me, not “recovering” from an “illness.”

  5. I’m a mom who tried to get assistance from an Assertive Community Treatment team, which my son had no choice but to accept services from, as he was told it was the only way they would discharge him from the hospital (not the institution, but the psyche ward in one of the more respectable hospitals in our country). I want my son to get some education, because I know he could if people encouraged him along the way. Even if it’s a pottery class. Instead of helping me encourage him, they took him to fast food restaurants to apply. I’ve heard that these jobs are some of the most highly stressful jobs and my son and I are changing from unhealthy food to whole organic. I was so sick of their oppressive ideas and worse, that they continued to push them on us. I never knew who to believe, the psychiatrists, “with over twenty years of experience,” or my intuition, the latter of which never steered me wrong. Finally, one day, I made a decision. We fired the ACT team and never before since his diagnosis have we been so free. Now, I just hope the Mother Bear community begins to happen in our town. Thanks for another great article!