Resilient recovery

Recovery is not a journey one should have to make alone.

In the 1980s, service users of mental health services in Aotearoa New Zealand contributed to developing the recovery approach which had emerged in Europe and North America as a critique on the oppressive nature of psychiatry and human rights abuses arising from compulsory hospitalisation. The service user movement aimed to empower persons through self-help strategies and the harnessing of personal strengths. Autonomy was foundational within recovery - promoting service user involvement in service design as well as decisions about the services they personally received. This focus was mandated for mental health service practice from the beginning of this century and appeared in policy in 2005. Darren Mills, one of our Lecturers in Occupational Therapy, has been researching how the recovery approach emerged to shape mental health service provision in Aotearoa New Zealand.  

Darren is concerned that the current focus on the individual's resilience, to endure and recover from adversity, may be overly subjective because it does not sufficiently take into account each individual's social environment.  Situating the problem and solution within the person through the concept of resiliency can be highly advantageous to that person who grasps this notion and is able to engage in a recovery journey that corresponds with service values. However, resiliency has the potential to draw attention away from the socio-political and environmental conditions that may lead to illness. As a concept, resiliency may be meaningless and disempowering for people caught in a cycle of deprivation, poverty and abuse.

We remain unique but we are connected to each other. Darren argues that experiencing supportive and caring relationships, contextual to a person’s strengths and needs, is a primary factor for recovery, including the development of resiliency. Supportive relationships, from family and local communities, thrive on trust and love, reassurance and encouragement. This has implications for clinical practice, in that mental health service providers need to promote greater engagement of individual service users with their unique support networks whilst challenging social and occupational injustices arising from harmful socio-political and environmental conditions.

Image credit: arianta, used under Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC 2.0

September 2019