What is a Recovery College?

A Recovery College is a place to learn about mental health, recovery and wellbeing. Recovery Colleges operate in a similar way to adult learning centres but with a focus on mental health and wellbeing. Each College offers a range of classes to suit the needs of its community. These generally include an array of topics on understanding and managing various mental health conditions, but also offer courses on nurturing resilience and wellbeing, promoting carer needs, and navigating the mental health system. At the ACT Recovery College, we offer courses which are co-produced and co-facilitated by people with lived (consumer/carer) and professional experience, as well as courses delivered by partner organisations, such as Carers ACT, MIEACT and the ACT MHCN. When students join a Recovery College they have an opportunity to discuss their recovery and wellbeing goals and develop their own 'Individual Learning Plan'. Students are supported throughout their studies by their educators, support staff and their fellow students. Recovery Colleges complement other mental health services and help increase peoples’ ability to stay well. International research has shown that Recovery College's reduce the incidence and severity of relapse, and enable people to more fully participate in life. They can also be a launch pad into mainstream education, employment and re-connection with the community. Recovery Colleges are well-established in the UK but relatively new in Australia. The first Recovery Colleges opened in the UK about eight years ago. There are now almost 40 in operation in major cities and some regional areas. Other countries that have Recovery Colleges include the US, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Australia.
In Australia, Recovery Colleges operate in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Below are links to some Recovery Colleges in Australia and the UK:

What do you mean by mental health recovery?

Recovery means different things to each individual. When we talk about recovery at the College, we are guided by the National Framework for Recovery-Oriented Mental Health Services definition of recovery as ‘being able to create and live a meaningful and contributing life in a community of choice with or without the presence of mental health issues’. Recovery is not synonymous with cure, nor is it necessarily about overcoming illness or injury. It is a process in which we move from a place of ill health where functioning is difficult, to a place of better health where we function and live a satisfying life on our own terms. Recovery Principles These principles have been developed to inform and guide the ACT community, and in particular mental health service providers, to support the spirit of recovery and enhance potential contributions to a person’s recovery journey. They have been developed after reflection on principles, dimensions and key elements from other states in Australia and around the world. Underlying these principles is acknowledgement of the unique nature of the recovery journey and the importance of creating a culture of optimism, healing and inclusion.

  • Hope is fundamental to a person’s recovery journey.
  • A person’s unique life context — encompassing, though not limited to, culture, spirituality, gender, age, life roles — is acknowledged and valued.
  • People are encouraged to take the lead in their recovery journey and collaborate with a range of services and supports as required.
  • Maintaining and developing connections to valued people and activities is critical to the recovery journey.
  • Partnerships are based on trust and mutual respect.
  • People are provided with the necessary information to enable them to make informed decisions about their recovery journey.
  • Everyone has responsibility for creating and sustaining a culture that promotes recovery.

What makes Recovery Colleges different to mental health services?

Recovery Colleges are places of education; they are not treatment centres or service providers. They do not take a clinical approach of focusing on symptom reduction; they take an educational approach and focus on building strengths and capacity. In doing this, they complement other mental health services and help increase students’ ability to stay well.
Recovery Colleges are developed and operated on the principles of co-design, co-production and co-facilitation, and they place the lived experience of mental health at the very core of their operations.

What does co-production mean?

Co-design, co-production and co-facilitation essentially mean work done in an equal, enabling respectful partnership between professionals and people with lived experience.
Colleges are designed and operated - with courses developed and delivered - in collaborative partnerships between people with lived experience, clinicians, support workers, other professionals. Each course is co-facilitated by a Peer Educator (lived experience as a consumer or carer) and a Professional Educator (subject matter expert). Often people working and educating in Recovery Colleges have mental health lived experience or educational professional experience.

What learning principles underpin Recovery College courses?

Recovery Colleges use standard adult learning principles in developing and teaching courses. Adult Learning Australia identifies some key concepts for adult education. Adult learners:

  • want to know why they are learning something
  • want to be seen as capable
  • bring existing knowledge
  • are ready to learn
  • want learning to be practical and relevant to their lives
  • are motivated to learn.

What facilities does the ACT Recovery College offer?

We understand the importance of connection to students’ wellbeing and offer spaces where students can meet new people and make friends. These include student lounge area, resource room with computer, a small library, kitchen facilities and an outdoor courtyard. Students also have ready access to staff and educators, with quiet areas for discussing how they are going. Unfortunately, we do not have a wheelchair accessible toilet at the moment, but if you want to enrol in a course and have this requirement, we will book an alternative venue to ensure you have access to the courses.

Who can enrol?

Anyone over the age of 18 years old. While Colleges are primarily designed for people experiencing mental ill health and their carers, they are open to the whole community and encourage anyone who wishes to learn about mental health and wellbeing to attend courses.

How much does it cost?

Enrolment in courses and all course materials are free. There are no associated costs with attending the ACT Recovery College as a student.

How do you enrol?

A link to a Student Enrolment form is available on our 'Courses' page. If you are interested in being sent information on upcoming courses, please email: [email protected]
When students join our College, they will be invited to a meeting with one of our lovely staff for an Orientation and have an opportunity to discuss their goals, learning needs and develop their Individual Wellbeing Plan.

Will there be homework, essays or exams?

No – learning primarily takes place in the classroom. Any additional work outside course sessions is at the student’s discretion.

Can the ACT Recovery College help me get a job?

Recovery Colleges help students reduce the incidence and severity of relapse, and helps them to gain confidence, skills and participate more fully in life. For many students this can become a launch pad into mainstream education, employment and re-connection with the community.

How long do courses go for?

The length of courses varies according to the content and objectives of the course. Some are single three hour session; other courses have sessions running once a week, for several weeks. There are generally no prerequisites, and students self-select what they want to study (i.e. there is no set learning pathway).

What is the DoNOHarm Framework

The ACT Recovery College operates under MIEACT’s DoNoHarm Framework ©2011.

This Framework is a best practice approach to communicating about mental illness.

Six Principles of DoNoHarm

1. Context / Purpose:

a. Who is your audience?

b. What role are you ‘playing’ when you tell your story?

c. What messages are you trying to put across?

d. What do you want people to take away from it?

e. Is it age or audience appropriate?

2. Recovery Emphasis

a. Recovery is a key part of addressing negative stigma.

b. Focus on recovery aspects – how you live with the consequences of mental illness in the family.

c. Doesn’t exclude the hardships.

d. Include where and how you got help.

3. Safe Talking

a. Avoid talk that may encourage a listener to copy behaviour or have the impression that such behaviours are normal.

b. Details must not be shared about:

c. Planning suicide or suicide attempts

d. Methods of self harm

e. Use of drugs and alcohol as a way of coping with mental illness

f. Sexual or physical abuse

g. Description of personal trauma – whether as an adult or child

h. Behaviours associated with eating disorders: e.g. weight control techniques, purging cycles or excessive exercise

4. Limits to Helping

a. Listen

b. Maintain appropriate boundaries; remember where you end and that there are limits to your capacity

c. Offer useful information about help seeking

5. Perspective; maintain self awareness

a. Respectful, Inclusive Language

b. Language plays a crucial part in creating stereotypes, myths and stigma.

c. Use language that is respectful, inclusive, non judgemental and has an emphasis on recovery.

d. People ‘live’ with a mental illness:

e. They are not defined by their mental illness, e.g.. ‘living with schizophrenia’ NOT ‘a schizophrenic’.

6. Self Care

a. Looking after yourself is essential.

b. Sharing stories is emotionally demanding.

c. Monitor yourself closely.

d. Debriefing opportunities.

e. Know your limits and triggers.

f. Expect the unexpected when talking about emotions

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©2020 by ACT Recovery College.

ABN: 66 633 659 908
Mental Health Community Coalition of the ACT ABN: 22 510 998 138