Wellness Recovery Action Plan


STEP ONE: Developing and maintaining the belief and awareness that change in the direction of wellness is possible. The recognition that recovery is possible is relatively new and Washington State is still in the transformation process.

STEP TWO: Discovering through trial and error, through listening to others that have overcome difficulties, and through your own research what works for you. You might want to get started with some sort of plan.

STEP THREE: Keeping it up and starting over. Life and wellness are ongoing. Staying well and getting better take continued effort on your part. You might have to start from square one a few times. Keep it up.

Developing and maintaining the belief that change in the direction of wellness is possible.

The general acceptance that recovery is possible is relatively new and not entirely mainstream yet. As recently as October 2005, Washington State was awarded a Mental Health Transformation State Incentive Grant. The grant created the Mental Health Transformation Project and called for one year of planning and four years of implementation. What made this grant unusual is its focus on system reform. The grant requirements specify planning and implementation, supported with community organization activities, research and evaluation, and recommendations for change in service delivery. The change which the system is attempting is a change which recognizes that people can and do recover from "mental illness".

Recovery has been cited as the "single most important goal" for the mental health service delivery system.  To clearly define recovery, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Interagency Committee on Disability Research in partnership with six other Federal agencies convened the National Consensus Conference on Mental Health Recovery and Mental Health Systems Transformation on December 16-17, 2004.

Over 110 expert panelists participated, including mental health consumers, family members, providers, advocates, researchers, academicians, managed care representatives, accreditation organization representatives, State and local public officials, and others. A series of technical papers and reports were commissioned that examined topics such as recovery across the lifespan, definitions of recovery, recovery in cultural contexts, the intersection of mental health and addictions recovery, and the application of recovery at individual, family, community, provider, organizational, and systems levels. They developed a consensus statement which was derived from expert panelist deliberations on the findings. The results of the consensus statement are described further below in the next section.


Recovery is not the exception to the rule but is the rule itself. Recovery is not only possible, recovery is probable.

Nine studies have followed up with over 2000 people over a period averaging 20 years found that an average of 66% had recovered to the point that a nonprofessional person would not be able to discern they had a mental illness.

Characteristics of the "recovered" person included:

  • Making their own decisions
  • Having a fulfilling network of friends
  • Having a major social role other than consumer
  • Using emotional distress as an opportunity for growth
  • Primary supports outside MH system

What does research say about what type of mental health service is helpful?

Courtney Harding, PhD, compared 2 groups of people who had been diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness and who were in the backwards of state mental hospitals. One group came from Vermont, which has a progressive program of psychiatric rehabilitation focused on recovery and the other group came from Maine. The people studied in Maine had the same identifying characteristics at the start but then received mental health services as usual, case management and a focus on maintenance and stability.


  • 269 patients from back wards of Vermont State Hospital in the 1950's
  • 97% of the Vermont group was located and assessed during the follow-up study in the early 1980's


  • Subjects were matched by age, gender, diagnosis, and chronicity from the back wards of the Augusta State Hospital in Maine
  • 94% of the Maine group was located and assessed during the follow-up study in the early 1980's

Dr. Harding's definition of recovery was relatively narrow and has four criteria:

  • having a social life indistinguishable from your neighbor
  • holding a job for pay or volunteering
  • no longer experienced symptoms of mental illness
  • no longer taking medication

Vermont findings?
Dr. Harding's data of the recovery oriented system in Vermont pointed to significant improvement in 62% to 68% of people studied. Dr. Harding's data are all the more powerful because she was studying the bottom 19% in the functional hierarchy in a large state hospital. Some of the people in her study had regressed to speaking in animal like sounds. Most had been in the institution for 10 or so years, many had been in and out repeatedly. The Vermont and Maine group was the least functional ever studied in world literature on schizophrenia.

Nevertheless, of this bottom 19%, 62% to 68% fully recovered or significantly improved. Half of the cohort of 62% fully recovered meeting all of Dr. Harding's recovery criteria and half met three out of four criteria, usually continuing to take medications while meeting the other criteria.

Maine findings?
In the companion study to her Vermont study, Dr. Harding studied a system in Maine oriented to maintenance instead of recovery. Patients were considered incapable of accomplishing anything like holding jobs or volunteering. They were expected to be in and out of the hospital for the rest of their lives and basically live as totally disabled. In this system, in spite of the adverse expectations, people recovered or significantly improved at a rate of 47%. Vermont's 62% to 68% recovery rate was significantly better. Those who had been studied in Vermont were significantly more likely to have lower symptoms and to work or volunteer. This endorses the healing effects of meaningful activity, whichever the individual chooses to pursue.

Who will fully recover and who will not?
Multiple analyses have looked for a variable that predicts who will and who will not recover. Significantly, to date, none has been found. Since the mental health system cannot predict who will and who will not recoverā€¦each and every person must be assumed to be the one who will recover. In the process, all persons will recover a position of authority over their own experience and be accorded the respect to choose their own path of recovery.

Discovering what works for you. Getting started with some sort of plan.

Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a more successful existence.

  • Process means that improvement is always possible
  • Aware means that we are continuously seeking more information about how we can improve.
  • Choices means that we consider a variety of options and select those in our best interest.
  • Success is determined by each individual to be their collection of life accomplishments.

Washington State's 11 Components of Recovery also the 10 components of recovery from the National Consensus.

Resilience: Be aware of the changes in yourself. If you are hot and drink a cool drink does that feel better? If you are upset and listen to certain music does that feel better? Our ability to rebound or change away from distress or uncomfortable situations is possible because of our innate abilities and resilience. These are subtle examples but the principle exists for each person from getting over a lost pet, to having bones heal and repair themselves. This potential is the underlying potential which each person utilizes in their own way to chart their own recovery course.

Self-Direction: By definition, the recovery process must be self-directed by the individual, who defines his or her own life goals and designs a unique path towards those goals. Expect to lead, control, exercise choice over, and determine your own path of recovery by optimizing autonomy, independence, and control of resources to achieve a self-determined life. You may need some assistance in dealing with people who are not willing or able to allow you to have your own choices or when you are not feeling as well as possible and others need some help. Ombuds, patient advocates, informal advocates and advance directives can assist in preserving this component of recovery.

Individualized and Person-Centered: There are multiple pathways to recovery based on an individual's unique strengths and resiliencies as well as his or her needs, preferences, experiences (including past trauma), and cultural background in all of its diverse representations. Individuals also identify recovery as being an ongoing journey and an end result as well as an overall paradigm for achieving wellness and optimal mental health. Be prepared to have a unique path that is not the same as everyone else, but works for you. 

Empowerment: Practice making your own choices and asserting your authority to choose from a range of options and to participate in all decisions - including the allocation of resources - that will affect your life. Find ways to become more educated and supported in voicing your experience and how things work for you. You may wish to  join with other people to collectively and effectively speak about your needs, wants, desires, and aspirations. Through empowerment, an individual gains control of his or her own destiny and influences the organizational and societal structures in his or her life.

Holistic: Recovery encompasses your whole life, including mind, body, spirit, and community. Recovery embraces all aspects of life, including housing, employment, education, mental health and healthcare treatment and services, complementary and naturalistic services, addictions treatment, spirituality, creativity, social networks, community participation, and family supports as determined by the person. Seek family members, providers, organizations, systems, communities, and people that can play a role in creating and maintaining meaningful opportunities and access to this type of support.

Non-Linear: Recovery is not a step-by-step process but one based on continual growth, occasional setbacks, and learning from experience. Recovery begins with an initial stage of awareness in which a person recognizes that positive change is possible. This awareness enables a person to move on to fully engage in the work of recovery.

Strengths-Based: Recovery focuses on valuing and building on the multiple capacities, resiliencies, talents, coping abilities, and your inherent worth. By building on these strengths, you can eventually leave stymied life roles behind and engage in new life roles (e.g., partner, caregiver, friend, student, or employee). The process of recovery moves forward through interaction with others in supportive, trust-based relationships.

Peer Support: Mutual support - including the sharing of experiential knowledge and skills and social learning - plays an invaluable role in recovery. People encourage and engage others in recovery and provide each other with a sense of belonging, supportive relationships, valued roles, and community.

Respect: Community, systems, and societal acceptance and appreciation of others  - including protecting rights and eliminating discrimination and stigma - are crucial in achieving recovery. Self-acceptance and regaining belief in one's self are particularly vital. Respect ensures the inclusion and full participation in all aspects of your life.

Responsibility: You have a personal responsibility for your own self-care and journeys of recovery. Taking steps towards goals may require great courage. Keeping up the work that promotes and sustains wellness can take continued effort. You must strive to understand and give meaning to your own experiences and identify coping strategies and healing processes to promote your own wellness.

Hope: Recovery provides the essential and motivating message of a better future - that people can and do overcome the barriers and obstacles that confront them. Hope is internalized; but can be fostered by peers, families, friends, providers, and others. Hope is the catalyst of the recovery process. Mental health recovery not only benefits individuals with mental health disabilities by focusing on their abilities to live, work, learn, and fully participate in our society, but also enriches the texture of American community life. America reaps the benefits of the contributions individuals with mental disabilities can make, ultimately becoming a stronger and healthier Nation. Even if you forget for a moment that recovery is possible, remember again and again that it really is and keep it up.

Getting started with some sort of plan.

A recovery plan is a map to leading a healthier, more balanced life. It isn't magic. It is personal and practical. It can help you

  • Reduce troubling feelings and behaviors
  • Get more control of your own life
  • Improve their quality of life
  • Meet personal life goals and dreams

A plan can help you realize you are a whole person with talents and strengths in addition to your mental health issue. The plan helps you

  • Define how to take care of yourself
  • Learn how best to take care of yourself
  • Recognize everyday well-being activities
  • Decide what you want to happen during difficult times
  • Track trigger events and early warning signs
  • Define what you will do if feeling badly
  • Say what kind of help you want, who you want to help and when you want it
  • Create a crisis plan if things are breaking down

Create your own Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) online.
WRAP plans have helped many people. You can create one free and change it whenever you want. It is private, but you can share it if you want to. You decide. Here is how to do it:

  • Go to Clark County's Network of Care for Behavioral Health site.
  • Quickly make yourself a free Network of Care login and password, and follow the simple instructions to create your own WRAP online in a secure, protected environment.
  • For more information about the Wellness Recovery Action Plan, please visit the Web site of Mary Ellen Copeland, creator of WRAP, at http://www.mentalhealthrecovery.com/.
  • More Options: If you aren't ready to create a plan yet but want to work on specific things, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance provide free help on common topics:

    Recovery Planning

    This article is about the topic of recovery from mental illness. It includes a discussion of how different people define recovery and encourages each person to develop his or her own definition of recovery. Pursuing goals is an important part of the recovery process. Working on this article can help you create your own recovery plan, to set recovery goals and choose strategies to pursue these goals.

    What is "recovery"?
    People define recovery from mental illness in their own individual ways. Here are some examples of how different people describe recovery from their own point of view:

    • "Recovery from mental illness is not like recovery from the flu. It's recovering your life and your identity."
    • "Recovery for me is having good relationships and feeling connected. It's being able to enjoy my life."
    • "I don't dwell on the past. I'm focusing on my future."
    • "Being more independent is an important part of my recovery process."
    • "Not having symptoms any more is my definition of recovery."
    • "Recovery for me is a series of steps. Sometimes the steps are small, like fixing lunch, taking a walk, following my daily routine. Small steps add up."
    • "Having a mental illness is part of my life, but not the center of my life."
    • "Recovery is about having confidence and self-esteem. I have something positive to offer the world."

    For children and families, many of the same descriptions would apply. In addition, recovery is about helping children to return to a normal developmental pathway and to develop resiliency, helping them to be successful in school and in having friends and other activities in their lives. For families, recovery includes having a community of support, both informal supports like friends, neighbors and extended family but also connection to formal supports like schools, health centers and faith communities. See Recovery for children and youth for more information.

    People define recovery in their own personal ways.

    A question to think about: What does recovery mean to you?

    What helps people in the process of recovery?

    People use a variety of different strategies to help themselves in the recovery process, such as the following:

    Becoming involved in self-help programs

    "I belong to a support group which is part of a self- help program. Everyone in the group has experienced psychiatric symptoms. I feel very comfortable there. The other people understand what I am going through. They also have good ideas for solving certain problems."

    (Contact information for a variety of self help programs and resources is provided in the Appendix to this article).

    Staying active

    "I find that the more I do to stay active during the day, the better things go. I make a list each day of what I want to do. I try to list fun things as well as work things. Just being active makes me feel more confident."

    Developing a support system

    "It helps me to have friends and family I can do things with and talk things over with. Sometimes I have to work on these relationships and make sure I stay in touch. It's better for me not to rely on just one person."

    Maintaining physical health

    "When I've been eating junk food or not getting any exercise, it makes me feel sluggish, both physically and mentally. So I try to eat things that have decent nutrition and I try to get at least a little exercise every day. It makes a lot of difference."

    Being aware of the environment and how it affects you

    "I concentrate much better when I'm in a quiet environment. When things start to get noisy I get distracted and sometimes I get irritable. When I can, I seek out quieter places and situations with fewer people involved. It also upsets me to be around critical people. I avoid that kind of person when I can."

    Making time for leisure and recreation

    "I can't just work all the time. I need time for pleasure, too. My wife and I like to rent a video every Friday. We take turns picking out what we will watch."

    "I like to write poetry. It helps me to express my emotions and put my experiences into words. And sometimes I read other people's poems. It's very satisfying."

    "Being in touch with my spirituality is essential to me. I belong to a church, but I also find spirituality in meditation and in nature."

    Following through with treatment choices
    "I have chosen treatment that includes a self-help group, a part-time job, and taking medication. I like to be pro-active. Following through with those things makes me feel strong, like I can handle my daily challenges."

    "I'm in a peer support program, and I see a therapist once a week who helps me figure out how to deal with some of the problems in my life. Both things have been important to my recovery."

    Strategies for recovery include:

    • self-help programs
    • staying active
    • developing a support system
    • maintaining physical health
    • being aware of the environment
    • making time for recreation
    • expressing creativity
    • seeking out spirituality
    • following through with treatment choices.

    Questions to think about:
    Which of the strategies for recovery have you used?
    Which of the strategies would you like to develop further or try out?
    You can use the following chart to record your answers to these questions.

    Strategies for Recovery


    I already use this strategy

    I would like to try this strategy or develop
    it further

    Self help programs



    Staying active



    Developing a support



    Maintaining physical health



    Being aware of the



    Making time for recreation



    Expressing creativity



    Expressing spirituality



    Following through with my treatment choices
    (such as: ____________)






    What's important to you? What goals would you like to pursue?

    Most people in the process of recovery report that it is important to establish and pursue goals, whether the goals are small or large. However, experiencing psychiatric symptoms can take up a great deal of your time and energy. Sometimes this can make it difficult to participate in activities or even to figure out what you would like to do.

    It may be helpful to take some time to review what's important to you as an individual, what you want to accomplish and what you want your life to be like. The following questions may be helpful:

    • What kind of friendships would you like to have?
    • What would you like to do with your spare time?
    • What kind of hobbies or sports or activities would you like to participate in?
    • What kind of work (paid or volunteer) would you like to be doing?
    • Are there any classes you would like to take?
    • What kind of close relationship would you like to have?
    • What kind of living situation would you like to have?
    • Would you like to change your financial situation?
    • How would you like to express your creativity?
    • What kind of relationships would you like with your family?
    • What kind of spiritual community would you like to belong to?

    It may also be helpful to think about the following questions:

    • Which areas of life do I feel most satisfied with?
    • Which areas of life do I feel least satisfied with?
    • What would I like to change?

    The following chart may help you answer these questions:

    Satisfaction with Areas of My life

    Area of my life

    I am not

    I am moderately satisfied

    I am very satisfied





    Meaningful work (paid or unpaid)




    Enjoyable activities




    Family relationships




    Living situation












    Belonging to a




    Intimate relationships




    Expressing creativity




    Hobbies or activities
    for fun








    Other area:




    You might find it helpful to set goals for yourself in one or two areas of your life that you are not satisfied with. For example, if you are not satisfied with having enough enjoyable activities, it might be a good idea to set a goal of identifying some activities and scheduling time to try them out.

    Identifying what you would like to improve in your life will help you set goals.

    Question: What two areas of your life are you not satisfied with and would like to improve?

    What goals would you like to set for yourself in these areas? You can use the following chart to record your goals. You can also refer back to the chart to record how you follow up on these goals.

    Goals Set in the Illness Management and Recovery Program

    Date goal was set












    What are some strategies for achieving your goals?

    Setting goals

    People who are most effective at getting what they want usually set clear goals for themselves and plan step-by-step what they are going to do.
    The following suggestions may be helpful:

    • Break down large goals into smaller, more manageable ones.
    • Start with short-term goals that are relatively modest and that are likely to be achieved.
    • Focus on one goal at a time.
    • Get support in working on goals; other people's ideas and participation can make a big difference.
    • Don't be discouraged if it takes longer than you think to accomplish a goal; this is very common.
    • If you first attempt to achieve a goal doesn't work, don't lose heart and give up. Keep trying other strategies until you find something that works. As the saying goes, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!"

    Planning steps for achieving goals

    You may find it helpful to follow a step-by-step method, such as the following, for achieving goals. This method can also be used to solve problems, as described in the article "Coping with Problems and Symptoms."

    1. Define the goal you would like to accomplish. Be as specific as possible.
    2. List at least 3 possible ways to achieve the goal.
    3. For each possibility, briefly evaluate its advantages (the pros) and disadvantages (the cons) for achieving your goal.
    4. Choose the best way to achieve your goal. Be as practical as possible.
    5. Plan the steps for carrying out your decision. Think about: Who will be involved? What step will each person do? What is the time frame? What resources are needed? What problems might come up and how could they be overcome?
    6. Set a date for evaluating how well your plan is working. First focus on the positive: What has been accomplished? What went well? Then look at whether your goal has been achieved. If it hasn't been achieved, decide whether to revise your plan or try another one.

    Make a step-by-step plan to help you achieve your goals.


    What is an example of a goal that you have set in the past?

    Have you used a step-by-step plan for achieving a goal before?

    What goals would you like to focus on?

    Choose one or two goals that you would like to achieve. Start with goals that are relatively small and have a strong chance of being successful. Use the following planning sheets to record your plans.

    Step-By-Step Problem-Solving and Goal Achievement

    1. Define the problem or goal as specifically and simply as possible.
    2. List 3 possible ways to solve the problem or achieve the goal.
    3. For each possibility, list one advantage and one disadvantage.
    4. Choose the best way to solve the problem or achieve the goal. Which way has the best chance of succeeding?
    5. Plan the steps for carrying out the solution. Who will be involved? What step will each person do? What is the time frame? What resources are needed? What problems might come up? How could they be overcome?
    6. Set a date for follow up:_________.
    Give yourself credit for what you have done. Decide whether the problem has been solved or whether the goal has been achieved. If not, decide whether to revise the plan or try another one.
    Step-By-Step Problem-Solving and Goal Achievement
    1. Define the problem or goal as specifically and simply as possible.
    2. List 3 possible ways to solve the problem or achieve the goal.
    3. For each possibility, list one advantage and one disadvantage.
    4. Choose the best way to solve the problem or achieve the goal. Which way has the best chance of succeeding?
    5. Plan the steps for carrying out the solution. Who will be involved? What step will each person do? What is the time frame? What resources are needed? What problems might come up? How could they be overcome?
    6. Set a date for follow up:_________.
    Give yourself credit for what you have done. Decide whether the problem has been solved or whether the goal has been achieved. If not, decide whether to revise the plan or try another one.
    What reminders, guidelines or suggestions to yourself will help you most in pursuing our recovery goals?
    James's recovery goals center on working and being a good husband and father. He uses the following reminders for himself:

    • Make time for yourself.
    • Reward yourself for things you do.
    • Look good for yourself.
    • Keep up with your appointments.
    • Tell people what's really on your mind.
    • Try to listen to your doctor and nurse.
    • Think positively. Have hope.
    • Get outside those four walls - take a walk, see a movie, go listen to music in the park.
    • Make time for romance.
    • Learn what makes you feel good, what you enjoy doing.
    • Be willing to apologize sometimes; it takes a real man or a real woman to apologize.
    • You don't have to get in arguments with people who say things you don't like. It only builds up your adrenaline, and then you feel worse.
    • Say a prayer. "Let me be positive today. Don't let me focus on the negative.

    In David's recovery, he has focused on goals related to creative expression, living independently and having strong relationships with family and friends. He said that the following guidelines have helped him pursue his goals:

    • Express yourself in art. Do it for your own enjoyment.
    • Express yourself in writing. Keep a journal. Write a poem, a story, an article, or even a comic.
    • Find a job that suits you and is not too stressful.
    • Stay busy. Try to schedule things with other people.
    • Persist until you find a medication that's right for you.
    • Don't let other people's opinions about mental illness get you down.
    • Meet other people who have experienced psychiatric symptoms.
    • Help other people in their recovery. You'll both feel the benefits.
    • Keep up family traditions as much as possible and stay in touch with family members.

    Sarah said that her recovery goals center on improving her relationships with the important people in her life (her husband, best friend, and mother) and maintaining her good social standing in the community. She said that finding out who she is and what she likes has been her salvation. For Sarah, a daily checklist has been important in pursuing her recovery goals. She suggests asking yourself the following questions every morning:

    • How is your medication situation?
    • How is your wardrobe?
    • Did you eat a healthy breakfast?
    • What is your structure for the day?
    • How is your money situation?
    • Who do you trust, who can you talk to?
    • Are you getting good sleep?

    Each person finds his or her own pathway to recovery.

    What reminders, guidelines, or suggestions to yourself will help you most in pursuing your recovery goals?

    Summary of the main points about recovery strategies

    • People define recovery in their own personal ways.
    • Strategies for recovery include:
    • Self help programs
    • Staying active
    • Developing a support system
    • Maintaining physical health
    • Being aware of the environment and how it affects you
    • Making time for leisure and recreation
    • Expressing creativity
    • Seeking out spirituality
    • Following through with treatment choices
    • Identifying what you would like to improve in your life will help you set goals.
    • Make a step-by-step plan to help you achieve your goals.
    • Each person finds his or her own pathway to recovery.

    Appendix: Contact Information for Information about Self-Help Organizations
    Mental Illness Education Project (MIEP)
    website: www.miepvideos.org
    The Mental Illness Education Project seeks to improve understanding of mental illness through the production of video-based programs for use by people with psychiatric conditions, their families, mental health mental health workers, administrators, and educators, as well as the general public.

    Mental Health Recovery
    website: www.mentalhealthrecovery.com
    Mary Ellen Copeland has developed a number of publications and programs for helping people in the recovery process, including the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). Her web site offers a free newsletter and articles and a list of publications and workshops that can be purchased.

    National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association (NDMA)
    website: www.ndmda.org
    NDMA is a membership organization that provides direct support services to people with psychiatric symptoms and their families, legislation and public policy advocacy, litigation to prevent discrimination, public education, and technical assistance to local affiliates.

    National Empowerment Center (NEC)
    website: www.power2u.org
    NEC is an award-winning provider of mental health information, programs and materials, with a focus on recovery. It can refer you to a local support group or help you to set up a new group. Newsletter and audio-visual materials are also available.

    National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH)
    website: www.nimh.nih.gov
    NIMH is engaged in research for better understanding, more effective treatment and eventually prevention of mental disorders. Its website provides educational materials and an excellent list of free publications on psychiatric disorders, including a comprehensive listing of resources for help.

    National Mental Health Association (NMHA)
    website: www.nmha.org
    The NMHA provides information and referral services for people in the process of recovery.

    National Mental Health Consumers' Self-help Clearinghouse
    website: www.mhselfhelp.org
    This organization provides information about psychiatric disorders, technical support for existing or newly starting self-help groups, and a free quarterly newsletter for consumers. They sponsor an annual conference. Spanish language services are available.

    Keeping it up and starting over.



    Helen Keller was blind deaf and mute. She was uncontrollably wild as a small child. The family hired a nurse to come care for her to give them reprieve and the nurse developed a way to communicate by signals touched onto her palm. She became a beacon of hope and joy not only to the physically handicapped, but everyone enjoying inspiration.
    "Be of good cheer. Do not think of today's failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere; and you will find joy in overcoming obstacles. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost."

    Helen Keller

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