The Word “Recovery”

21st August 2018

Therapists and clients will always use the word “recovery” in their work together. The definition of recovery, itself, means to “return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength” (Oxford Dictionaries). I often hear the word used in sessions and even I can feel overwhelmed by the semantics and concept of it.

While I have been told by clients that the word “recovery” can feel like a window of opportunity, I am also told that it can feel like a frightening and daunting window of doom. I am finding, too, that the concept can fit nicely into “all-or-nothing” way of thinking, as it can be easily thought of with the belief that someone must be able to do it completely or not be able to do at all.


Yes, there’s a reason to scream right there! And if you didn’t scream, try putting yourself in the shoes of someone with that perspective. One word–pressure! Pressure, pressure and more pressure in the aim to be perfectly recovered.

The definition above says recovery is a return to a normal state of health, but, a return would mean that people were good before they started to struggle, right? Being a psychologist, I would argue against this idea, as we know from research all of us have maladaptive thoughts. These generally develop through trying to protect ourselves from the stress and strain often found in childhood as we come in to contact with family and wider societal systems. Therefore, I would advocate that my role is to not return someone to the way they were before, but to actually help them rebirth into something new. Thus, in many ways, the client mustn’t recover but evolve. Evolve from the past which got them to find destructive coping strategies in the first place and transcend the stories of self which come to be true. So for me, it is not about returning at all, it’s more about developing so people are supported to  align to their full potential.

The word recovery is not to be glossed over with clients in the therapy room–it is a concept which carries many interpretations. Both the therapist and the client need to explore their beliefs on this issue. I know, too, that recovery is not a linear process. I see psychological wellbeing as a spiraling loop with many springs going up and down. You could also see wellbeing like the board game snakes and ladders, with many wins and loses along the rise to the top. While I can theorize like this, what’s more powerful is how this ultimately comes from someone who is on the board game as I write this. This brave and insightful young woman wrote the following passage, and it really depicts what it takes to keep fighting the eating disorder thoughts and behaviours:

“We can’t keep surrendering ourselves to the oppression of anorexia, we can’t keep obeying it’s every rule in fear of how it will make us feel. Even if we didn’t have eating disorders, we would have to experience the feeling of pain, guilt, unhappiness, etc., because it’s a part of being human. When we feel guilty or anxious or fat, we’ve got to remember that that’s anorexia gearing up many ways to put our body into threat mode so we see food as the enemy rather than a necessity…You’ve got to recognise what you feel ISN’T what you are. You feel disgusting, but you ARE NOT disgusting. Instead of trying to push them away completely, you need to acknowledge the emotions you’re feeling and then acknowledge that it’s not the truth and that it’s not you!

She also wrote:

“When you realise that spending your life in and out of hospitals, and not having the comfort of your own bed is not worth it,  it will start to hurt. And when you finally realise that it’s not you in control and that it’s anorexia, that’s going to hurt too. But we’ve got to find support to fight this. Weight gain is inevitable, recovery is inevitable–it has to happen or we die. Choose to live, choose to smile, and choose to allow others to see the light in your eyes and not the dullness anorexia tries to make you carry in your eyes.”

N.B. This young lady wrote this as a way to remind herself why she is putting up the fight against the eating disorder.  She continues to write like this when she feels the anorexic voice gaining control. As she concluded, she is fighting for the light and she knows that the fight will be worth it.

Thank you for reading.

Take a look at some of our other posts:

Parent and Carer Support Groups

August 13, 2018

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