Pathways of recovery: preventing further episodes of mental illness (monograph)

Relapse prevention, recovery and rehabilitation

Page last updated: 2006

Relapse prevention, recovery and rehabilitation are distinct, although related, concepts. Nevertheless, it was difficult for many people in the consultations to differentiate these concepts and they were often used interchangeably. In general, however, relapse prevention was perceived as having a more negative and symptom-related focus than recovery, which was more strongly related to identifying potential for wellbeing in people's lives. Mueser et al (2002) maintain that relapse prevention is a form of illness management, with an emphasis on minimising symptoms, whereas recovery aims to help people develop and pursue their personal goals in life.

Interestingly, negative connotations were not restricted to relapse prevention and the notion of recovery was reported by some people in the consultations to be threatening and negative. This was especially true for older people who had long histories of mental illness and contact with mental health services. Some of these people found the notion of recovery confronting, partly because they felt they had not managed to 'recover' and felt that this implied a serious failure on their part.

    There are a whole lot of platitudes that are bandied around like this and it can be very hard for people who have been battered around by the system. —Consumer

    For people with very severe or multiple issues, so called complex clients, recovery is an abstract concept that they can't quite wrap their heads around. Maintenance or some sort of level of functioning that they can accept is more palatable perhaps because it is something that they can aspire to. —Rehabilitation services provider

    I think that really needs to be remembered from working with the aged, that language is really important, that compared to a 30-year-old an 80-year-old would not talk about recovery, it brings up very different things for an 80-year-old. —Aged care services provider
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