Recovery-oriented language

As we have learned, language has the power to create reality. It can generate an enormous amount of feelings and emotions, which can result in the difference between a person feeling good about their life and feeling bad about it.

Therefore, using positive and empowering recovery-oriented language is strengths-based and represents the hope that people do move forward in their recovery. This is opposed to using deficit-based language which makes assumptions about people and limits them.

The following pages identify the difference between strengths-based and deficit-based language. The examples are not exhaustive, so please feel free to add to the list and include alternative examples of your own.


Recovery-Oriented Language




Is a schizophrenic

Is a person diagnosed with schizophrenia who experiences the following…

Has PD

Has lived experience of trauma

Treatment works

Person uses treatment to support his/her recovery

Discharged to aftercare

Connected to long-term recovery management


Empower the individual through empathy, emotional authenticity, and encouragement


Has high hopes and expectations that those around them do not share


Tends to (describes actions, e.g., kick) when they’re (describe behaviour, e.g., hearing voices)

Kicking off

Expressing distress/ Individually expressing themselves in a way that feels threatening to those around them

Is borderline

A person diagnosed with BPD who will have experienced traumatic/distressing life events

Is clean (from drugs)

No longer takes drugs

Also has problems with substances

A person who experiences mental health and co-existing difficulties with substance use

Treatment Team

Recovery Team, Recovery Support System


Prefers not to…


Chose not to / Disagreed with the suggestion

Client believes that…

Client stated that…


Experiencing thoughts which invlove worrying/believing that …./ Having experiences which are not shared by others


Experiencing a lot of fear around…

High-functioning vs. Low Functioning

Person’s experiences interfere with their relationship (work habits, etc.) in the following way…/ Is really good at/ Has a tough time taking care of themself


Person disagrees with Recovery Team and prefers to use alternative coping strategies. These strategies include shouting etc.


Has high expectations for self and recovery

Denial, unable to accept illness, lack of insight

Person disagrees with diagnosis; does not agree that they have a ‘mental illness’ pre-contemplative stage of recovery


Experiencing an increase in difficult experiences/ Experiencing a difficult time


Seeking alternative methods of meeting needs/

Trying really hard to self-advocate and communicate that they need support in a way that has worked for them in the past


Not in agreement with the treatment plan/ Difficulty following treatment recommendations/ Choosing not to


Bored / Has not begun/ Preferred options not available/ Working towards achieving their goals

Suffering from

Working to recover from; experiencing; living with


Not open to… Chooses not to…Has own ideas…




Barriers to change; needs

Clinical decompensation, relapse, failure

Person has experienced a significant trigger that has overwhelmed their coping resources

Maintaining clinical stability/abstinence

Promoting and sustaining recovery/ Progressing/ Doing well

Puts self/recovery at risk

Is using ways of coping that are difficult/scary for those around them

Non-compliant with medications/treatment

Prefers alternative coping strategies (e.g., exercise, structures time, spends time with family) to reduce reliance on medication; Has a crisis plan for when meds should be used; beginning to think for oneself

Patient (in mental health community)

Individual, consumer, person using services




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