Recovery and Peer Support Model

Note: In 2011, AOTA identified this and many other topics as emerging niches in occupational therapy. Today, many of these topics have become mainstream. Learn more about the 2011 Emerging Niche series here.

Peer Support Why emerging? The prevalence of mental health problems in the 18- to 25-year-old age group is almost double that of the general population, but few young people seek help. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) launched the "What a Difference a Friend Makes" initiative to let young people know that recovery from mental illness is not just possible but likely in a culture of acceptance and peer support.1 In the early 2000s, President George W. Bush created the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, which proposed to transform the treatment of mental illness away from traditional medical psychiatric approaches toward the concept of recovery, and the American Psychiatric Association endorsed this recovery model.2

Get Involved! When she started her clinical experience in the 1970s, Virginia Stoffel, PhD, OT, BCMH, FAOTA, says that peer support and recovery had been central to working with people with substance abuse. "It's only been recently that peer support has appeared in the mental health setting, and now recovery has been broadened to be more inclusive and applicable to both substance abuse and mental health," says Stoffel. The concept that there are multiple pathways to recovery and that it is based on a person's strengths, needs, and preferences is very compatible with occupational therapy, which seeks to help people achieve the goals they set and live life to its fullest, she says.

Occupational therapy practitioners who want to work within the peer support and recovery model should visit the SAMHSA Web site and review resources such as the ten components of recovery. "The recovery model is, at best, something defined by that person," Stoffel says. "Our unique knowledge of the person, environment, and occupation is key to helping make recovery possible." Stoffel says she knows that only a small percent of occupational therapy practitioners works in a mental health–focused specialty setting, but she believes that all practitioners should know about mental health recovery and peer support. "The opportunities that we have are much wider given the co-occurrence of mental health or substance abuse issues with other health-related problems that we work with," says Stoffel. "[Understanding] recovery is something that we all need to know."

  • OT Practice Article:
  • Reference:

    1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011).What a difference a friend makes. Retrieved April 28, 2011, from

    2. Sharfstein, S. (2005). Recovery model will strengthen psychiatrist-patient relationship. Psychiatric News, 40(20), 3.