A Recovery College is an educational approach that supports people in their mental health recovery journey. It takes an educational perspective, rather than a clinical one, to help people understand and manage mental health conditions, develop self-management techniques, and work towards personal recovery goals.
What is the purpose of a Recovery College?
The main aims of a Recovery College are to:
- Promote recovery, wellbeing and social inclusion for people with mental health conditions
- Challenge stigma around mental ill-health
- Provide access to educational courses and resources
- Offer opportunities for people to explore recovery and wellbeing
- Develop knowledge, skills and understanding
- Increase confidence and self-esteem
- Support self-management of mental health
The emphasis is on empowerment, possibility and community collaboration. Recovery Colleges aim to instill hope, support self-determination, and equip people to live meaningful and satisfying lives, defined by themselves rather than by diagnosis.
How do Recovery Colleges work?
Recovery Colleges are centered around co-production – people with lived experience of mental ill-health work alongside mental health professionals to design and deliver educational courses and workshops.
They create a learning community where expertise comes from both professional and personal experience. People participate as students, not patients or service users. This helps challenge traditional hierarchies and power dynamics in mental health care.
Courses are co-designed and co-delivered by people with lived experience of mental health challenges, such as peer support workers, along with mental health practitioners like psychologists, nurses, social workers and occupational therapists.
Who can attend?
Recovery Colleges are open to anyone wishing to understand mental health and work towards personal recovery and wellbeing goals. This includes:
- People experiencing mental health conditions
- Family, friends and supporters
- Mental health staff
- Community members
There are no eligibility requirements or need for a referral. People participate as students by choice, not because they have been referred by a clinician or care coordinator.
What courses are offered?
Course topics cover a wide range of mental health, recovery and wellbeing areas. Examples include:
- Understanding mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia
- Building self-esteem and confidence
- Wellness tools like exercise, mindfulness, nutrition
- Coping strategies and stress management
- Setting recovery goals
- Developing support networks and resources
- Art and creativity for wellbeing
- Understanding trauma
- Building relationships
- Supporting recovery in others
The courses utilize adult education methods. They are collaborative, facilitated by peer trainers, and involve shared learning experiences. The goal is to build self-management skills and knowledge, not treat symptoms or monitor progress.
Are any qualifications offered?
While Recovery Colleges do not offer clinical treatment or accredited qualifications, some may provide completion certificates for attending courses. This recognizes the learning and participatory progress made by students.
Some Recovery Colleges are linked to mainstream further education colleges. This enables students to move onto accredited educational courses if desired.
What are the key principles and values?
Recovery Colleges are guided by a set of principles and values:
- Co-production – involving people with lived experience in designing and delivering all aspects of the Recovery College
- Inclusivity – welcoming people from all backgrounds and mental health experiences
- Empowerment – building knowledge and skills so people can take control of their recovery
- Collaboration – working in partnership with local mental health services and organizations
- Accessibility – providing inclusive training and resources suited to different learning needs
- Hope – promoting the possibility of recovery through education and community connection
The educational approach is strengths-based and talent-focused. It seeks to enrich lives through learning, rather than treat people as patients defined by diagnosis and deficits.
What are the benefits?
Research indicates Recovery Colleges lead to a range of positive outcomes for students including:
- Increased knowledge about mental health conditions and strategies for self-management
- Greater feelings of empowerment, hope, self-esteem and confidence
- Improved mental health and ability to manage symptoms
- Developing new skills for managing health, wellbeing and recovery
- Building social connections and peer support
- Reduced stigma and discrimination
Benefits for peer trainers include increased confidence, self-worth, skills and social connections. Mental health services also benefit through closer community collaboration and more recovery-focused care.
Impact on hospital admissions
UK studies have found participation in Recovery College courses can help reduce hospital admissions and support early discharge for people experiencing acute mental health crises. Even small reductions in bed stays lead to major cost savings.
For example, an analysis of South London and Maudsley NHS Trust’s Recovery College found average inpatient bed use reduced from 20 days to 10 days per year amongst course participants. Scaling this across all mental health service users gave potential cost savings of around £5 million per year.
Improved staff wellbeing
Involving staff in Recovery Colleges as co-facilitators of courses can also improve mental health practitioner wellbeing and skills for recovery-oriented practice.
An evaluation of Sussex Recovery College found 95% of staff who helped deliver courses reported positive impacts on their wellbeing, workplace culture and understanding of service user needs.
Where are Recovery Colleges located?
The first Recovery Colleges emerged in England in the late 2000s. There are now over 80 Recovery Colleges across the UK, as well as globally in countries like Australia, Canada, Denmark, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and the United States.
Recovery Colleges can be set up by:
- Mental health service providers – as part of NHS Trusts or health networks
- Community mental health organizations
- Further education colleges
- Peer-run initiatives
- Partnerships between health services, community groups, colleges, people with lived experience etc.
Most are located within community settings, separate from clinical mental health services. This reinforces the educational rather than clinical focus.
How are Recovery Colleges funded and staffed?
There are different funding and staffing models for Recovery Colleges, depending on whether they are part of government mental health services or independent community organizations.
Recovery Colleges within healthcare systems
Recovery Colleges situated within healthcare networks, like NHS Trusts in the UK, are funded through health service budgets. Staffing is through:
- Seconding existing mental health practitioners to work as course facilitators alongside their clinical roles
- Hiring peer workers and educators with lived experience of mental ill-health
- Volunteers and sessional trainers
NHS Trusts may employ a dedicated Recovery College manager and administrative team. Some clinical staff roles may be re-oriented towards co-ordination and training delivery for the Recovery College.
Independent Recovery Colleges
Recovery Colleges set up independently through community organisations and peer networks are funded through diverse sources such as:
- Government and philanthropic grants
- Donations from individuals, workplaces, community groups
- Fees for some courses and resources
- Funding from mental health service partners
- Social enterprise activities
Staffing is through hiring educators and peer workers, along with volunteers and sessional facilitators. Lived experience is prioritized along with teaching capabilities.
How can I find out more?
To learn more about Recovery Colleges and the educational approach to mental health, you can:
- Visit recoverycollege.co.uk for resources on the Recovery College model
- Look up Recovery Colleges in your local area
- Speak to your mental health service provider about opportunities in your region
- Connect with mental health peer support and advocacy groups
- Read research and evaluations of existing Recovery Colleges
You can also browse sample course prospectuses online from established Recovery Colleges to get an idea of the educational offerings.
Recovery Colleges are innovating mental health care by taking an educational, co-production approach focused on possibility and self-determined recovery. They provide inclusive learning environments where people can gain knowledge, skills and peer support for mental health self-management and wellbeing.
The benefits of participation are well-evidenced, for both students and staff involved. Recovery Colleges exemplify how services can empower people in their mental health recovery journey.
|Recovery College||Location||Type of Organization|
|South London and Maudsley Recovery College||London, UK||NHS Mental Health Trust|
|Nottingham Recovery College||Nottingham, UK||NHS Mental Health Trust|
|Boston University Recovery College||Massachusetts, USA||University|
|Manitoba Recovery College||Winnipeg, Canada||Peer-run Community Organization|