Understanding Recovery from a Patient and Doctor Perspective

On Thursday December 12, Dr. Evan Weizenberg, medical resident in Ontario Shores’ forensics program delivered a paradigm shaking presentation at Grand Rounds on the concept of Recovery.

“Patients of psychiatric services need more than symptom relief.  Patients and users of our psychiatric system need recovery,” said Weizenberg.

The ‘Recovery’ concept is not understood in the same light by the system as it is by patients.  This is true although the concept of recovery has become an ever present discussion topic by researchers, policy makers and mental health practitioners as they attempt to make programs more patient and consumer friendly. 
Weizenberg suggested the gap in understanding recovery has a lot to do with the fact that even though recovery is currently being discussed in medical groups, the topic has already done the rounds over and over again within consumer circles.  Most people speaking about recovery are not psychiatrists, but patients.  
Patients are asking about recovery apart from medications to stabilize.  Patients and mental health consumers are asking about how to practice recovery oriented care beyond the removal of symptoms.  Patients understand recovery as a concept can be applied to the acutely unwell so they can experience whatever measures of personal recovery which work for them.

The disparity between the medical understanding and patient understanding of recovery is due to the different definitions used by both groups.  Within the medical community recovery is viewed clinically, it is:

An idea that has emerged from the expertise of mental health professionals, and involves getting rid of symptoms, restoring social functioning, and in other ways ‘getting back to normal.’
Within the patient support community recovery is viewed as personal:

It is 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 even within the limitations caused by illness. Recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness.

Dr. Weizenberg explains that for patients  recovery is a struggle that will involve risk taking with the right to succeed or fail as each individual attempts to exercise his/her own personal growth and understanding.  Good mental health care will involve active engagement with the complex nature of mental health problems.  As mental health workers, we will need to have a tolerance for the tangled nature of relationships and meanings and the ability to negotiate issues in a way that empowers service users.