Recovery is an increasingly important concept in mental health services research and policy-making. However, despite burgeoning interest in the concept, no overarching theoretical or empirical framework has been offered to support its key ideas. Further, it is often unclear how recovery ideas translate into routine practices of mental health programmes and practitioners. In this article, a theoretical framework for recovery ideas is derived from self-determination theory, a widely researched and empirically validated theory of human need fulfilment. I discuss the conceptual overlap of self-determination theory and recovery ideas, and, using key motivational concepts, develop a typology of recovery-oriented practices for three hypothetical programme types (controlling, traditional/paternalistic and recovery oriented). I describe existing measures of recovery-oriented practice and consider the implications of self-determination theory for measurement of and research on recovery-oriented practice.