A Recovery College can be described as a unique learning centre where people with lived experience of mental health issues, peers, family members and mental health professionals use their knowledge and experience to work collaboratively and on equal terms to co-develop and co-deliver courses on a range of topics that support well-being and recovery (Perkins, Repper, Rinaldi, & Brown 2012).
A Recovery College is a place of self-discovery where people come together to gain knowledge, learn new skills, and explore new roles for themselves in a supportive environment. Here a “student” is not a passive recipient of information or advice; they are actively engaged, valued and empowered within a culture of mutual respect. A Recovery College is a learning environment where people with lived experience are equal partners in developing and delivering learning opportunities that open the door to new aspirations and personal growth. Recovery Colleges offer a new way to support recovery and can be transformative for both individuals and organizations. Within the Recovery College model, there is a focus on bringing together the expertise of both professionals and people with lived experience in a process of co-production, co-delivery and co-learning.
Who Are Recovery Colleges For?
One of the key features of Recovery Colleges is that they are open to anyone. This includes people with lived experience of mental health or substance use issues, family members, peers, friends and other supporters as well as community members, and people who work in a professional role in mental health.
There have been a number of benefits identified by students, primarily people with lived experience and staff/professionals, based on this mixed student group learning model offered at a Recovery College. Some of the ways in which students benefitted from the diverse student group included: learning new knowledge, reduced stigma, decreased isolation, increase in hopefulness and empathy, and enhanced understanding of others’ perspectives and recovery (Meddings, Guglietti, Lambe, & Byrne, 2014; Perkins Ridler, Hammond, Davis & Hackmann, 2017).
A recent review by Toney and colleagues (2018) aimed at discovering how Recovery Colleges work and benefit people, suggests that four specific sub-groups of people who use mental health services may particularly benefit from the Recovery College model:
People who may be early on in their recovery and could benefit from the support and guidance in making choices
Those who find it challenging to engage in any mental health services and who may benefit from the warm welcome of a College
Those who have high self-stigma are likely to benefit from exposure to peer trainers
People whose social connectedness is limited to formal services and who would benefit from meeting others outside of that context (Toney et al., 2018)
Why Do We Need Recovery Colleges?
The main aim of Recovery Colleges is to provide an opportunity for people to discover their true potential; to use their life experience in positive ways to promote their recovery and to be able to share that knowledge and expertise for the benefit of others in the community.
Recovery Colleges fill a gap in current service delivery models and structures. People living with mental health and substance use issues have long sought an environment where they are viewed and respected as whole individuals, not “broken” beings needing to be fixed. The Recovery College environment is different in that respect right from the outset. There is a belief that every student has strengths, capabilities and aspirations; the approaches taken within the College support that belief. The College process and environment assists students in finding and bolstering their strengths and leveraging them to achieve meaningful personal goals.
6 Critical Dimensions of Successful Recovery Colleges
There is active engagement with community organizations and mainstream education facilities in the local community and an emphasis on partnership working.
Based on educational principles and a co-produced, recovery-focused curriculum with each student having an individual learning plan based on their wishes and aspirations. Students choose the courses they are interested in attending. Not referral-based.
Based on co-production in all facets of their operation, curriculum and course development, co-facilitation and co-learning that brings together lived, life, professional and subject expertise.
STRENGTHS-BASED AND PERSON-CENTRED
The strengths, skills, qualities and possibilities for staff and students are identified, built upon and rewarded. For both students and staff, achievements, strengths, skills and qualities are identified, built upon and rewarded.
Actively support students to move on in their lives, to achieve their own identified goals and explore possibilities outside services.
Recovery Colleges welcome students of all types, cultures, abilities and educational achievements. There are no diagnostic requirements or exclusions and no formal risk assessment. They also welcome mental health practitioners, other mental health staff, relatives, friends, carers and people in the local community and are free to all. Everyone learns together and from each other.
From Perkins R., Meddings, S., Williams, S., & Reppter, J. (2018). Recovery Colleges 10 Years On, Nottingham, ImROC. P.5
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