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Blog #8 Recovery – which is to be master?

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less. But the question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things. The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master— that’s all.” (Alice through the Looking Glass)

We have seen that ‘recovery’ is a word with many meanings. Those of us who wish to encourage mental health services to make a better job of supporting recovery therefore need to be clear about which meanings we wish to promote. This is not easy. There are a number of misinterpretations of recovery which go entirely against its fundamental principles. However, before we reject the word entirely we should be careful about throwing out what are probably the best set of ideas for reforming mental health services in a generation. They provide a challenge to the power and position of traditional, mental health professionals and service priorities. Of course, there is a balance to be struck here, but it seems to me that the balance is invariably struck in favour of the professionals’ agenda, rather than the clearly expressed wishes of the people who use services, their friends, families and other carers.

Perhaps the most important idea to emerge from my own experience of trying to re-shape services to support recovery is the changing nature of power. ‘Co-production’ puts the people who use services and the people who provide them – at least in a formal sense – on the same ‘side’. By sharing power they increase it and can then achieve more than either could do on their own. As Foucault noted, they are both also transformed by this process. Power is not a ‘thing’: it is a relationship and supporting recovery, whether at an individual or an organisational level, is about changing this relationship. That is a challenge that we all find difficult. It is certainly something that is worth trying to keep alive.

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