The Allegheny County Coalition for Recovery has been working since 2001 to increase the Public's recognition that people can and frequently do recover from serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The Coalition sponsors a variety of events designed to reach out to the general public, users of behavioral health services, and providers of those services, with information and resources related to the recovery process.
The Coalition has been a driving force in the transformation of behavioral health services in this county to a form that will provide hope and meaning to disrupted lives and will promote engagement in collaborative treatment programs, community living, meaningful relationships, productive activities and independent decision making.
The Allegheny County Coalition for Recovery was formed in the fall of 2001 as a result of concerns by stakeholders in the county behavioral health system that service providers and persons being served were often unaware of or did not understand principles of recovery. Few service providers actually used these principles as a way to think about and organize the services that were being offered. Most services had been organized in a manner more consistent with a medical model in which persons using services were placed in a passive role with limited participation or collaboration in the treatment planning process. Persons receiving services often felt trapped and as though they had limited choices and limited hope for a fulfilling future.
An understanding that people with mental illnesses or substance use disorders can and do recover has been growing in recent years. Despite this recognition by many people involved with behavioral health services, treatment programs have been slow to change. Most professionals have not been trained to deliver care from the perspective of recovery. Against the backdrop of these circumstances, the Coalition for Recovery began its work.
The first step was the establishment of three committees. The first, Public Awareness, had the charge of combating stigma in our county, and raising the awareness of service providers, the public, and service users that individuals affected by mental illness and addiction all have the potential to recover. The second committee, Education and Training, was charged with developing educational resources and programs to provide persons receiving services and those providing services with a deeper understanding of recovery principles and the recognition that it is a concept that can be applied by everyone. Developing a toolkit for training service providers was also part of the committee's work. The third group, Quality Improvement, was given the task of developing guidelines for service systems to use in a transformation to a system that facilitates and encourages the recovery perspective. Along with these guidelines, a set of measurable indicators would be developed to help service providers gage their progress toward achieving the best practices for delivering recovery oriented services.
The Coalition began its work by developing some common ideas about what recovery is. Numerous sources were consulted and the stories of many people in recovery were heard. Clearly, definitions of recovery are quite personal, and there is a great deal of variability in how people think about it, but some of the common threads of recovery began to emerge: