Skip to main content Accessibility help

The impact of Recovery Colleges on mental health staff, services and society

  • A. Crowther (a1), A. Taylor (a2), R. Toney (a3), S. Meddings (a1), T. Whale (a4), H. Jennings (a5), K. Pollock (a6), P. Bates (a7), C. Henderson (a2) (a8), J. Waring (a9) and M. Slade (a3)...



Recovery Colleges are opening internationally. The evaluation focus has been on outcomes for Recovery College students who use mental health services. However, benefits may also arise for: staff who attend or co-deliver courses; the mental health and social care service hosting the Recovery College; and wider society. A theory-based change model characterising how Recovery Colleges impact at these higher levels is needed for formal evaluation of their impact, and to inform future Recovery College development. The aim of this study was to develop a stratified theory identifying candidate mechanisms of action and outcomes (impact) for Recovery Colleges at staff, services and societal levels.


Inductive thematic analysis of 44 publications identified in a systematised review was supplemented by collaborative analysis involving a lived experience advisory panel to develop a preliminary theoretical framework. This was refined through semi-structured interviews with 33 Recovery College stakeholders (service user students, peer/non-peer trainers, managers, community partners, clinicians) in three sites in England.


Candidate mechanisms of action and outcomes were identified at staff, services and societal levels. At the staff level, experiencing new relationships may change attitudes and associated professional practice. Identified outcomes for staff included: experiencing and valuing co-production; changed perceptions of service users; and increased passion and job motivation. At the services level, Recovery Colleges often develop somewhat separately from their host system, reducing the reach of the college into the host organisation but allowing development of an alternative culture giving experiential learning opportunities to staff around co-production and the role of a peer workforce. At the societal level, partnering with community-based agencies gave other members of the public opportunities for learning alongside people with mental health problems and enabled community agencies to work with people they might not have otherwise. Recovery Colleges also gave opportunities to beneficially impact on community attitudes.


This study is the first to characterise the mechanisms of action and impact of Recovery Colleges on mental health staff, mental health and social care services, and wider society. The findings suggest that a certain distance is needed in the relationship between the Recovery College and its host organisation if a genuine cultural alternative is to be created. Different strategies are needed depending on what level of impact is intended, and this study can inform decision-making about mechanisms to prioritise. Future research into Recovery Colleges should include contextual evaluation of these higher level impacts, and investigate effectiveness and harms.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Mike Slade, E-mail:


Hide All
Al Ramiah, A and Hewstone, M (2013) Intergroup contact as a tool for reducing, resolving, and preventing intergroup conflict. American Psychologist 68, 527542.
Anfossi, A (2017) The current state of Recovery Colleges in the UK: final report. ImROC: Nottingham.
Australian Healthcare Associates (2018) Literature Review to Inform the Development of Recovery Colleges in Western Australia. Melbourne: AHA.
Bourne, P, Meddings, S and Whittington, G (2017) An evaluation of service use outcomes in a Recovery College. Journal of Mental Health DOI: 10.1080/09638237.2017.1417557.
Collins, R, Shakespeare, T and Firth, L (2018) Psychiatrist's views on Recovery Colleges. Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice 13, 9099.
Corker, E, Hamilton, S, Robinson, E, Cotney, J, Pinfold, V, Rose, D, Thornicroft, G and Henderson, C (2016) Viewpoint survey of mental health service users’ experiences of discrimination in England 2008–14. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 134(suppl. 446), 1422.
Cornish, F, Gillespie, A and Zittoun, T (2013) Collaborative analysis of qualitative data. In Flick, U (ed.), Handbook of Qualitative Data Analysis. London: Sage, pp. 7993.
Dorset Wellbeing and Recovery Partnership (2016) WaRP Magazine. (accessed 24 April 2017).
Frayn, E, Duke, J, Smith, H, Wayne, P and Robert, G (2016) A voyage of discovery: setting up a recovery college in a secure setting. Mental Health and Social Inclusion 20, 2935.
Gill, K (2014) Recovery Colleges, co-production in action: the value of lived experience in ‘learning and growth for mental health’. Health Issues 113, 1014.
Gillard, S, Gibson, S, Holley, J and Lucock, M (2015) Developing a change model for peer worker interventions in mental health services: a qualitative research study. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences 24, 435445.
Henderson, C, Noblett, J, Parke, H, Clement, S, Caffrey, A, Gale-Grant, O, Schulze, B, Druss, B and Thornicroft, G (2014) Mental health-related stigma in health care and mental health-care settings. The Lancet. Psychiatry 1, 467482.
HM Government (2011) No Health Without Mental Health. Delivering Better Mental Health Outcomes for People of all Ages. London: Department of Health.
Ioannidis, J, Evans, S, Gøtzsche, P, O'Neill, R, Altman, D, Schulz, K and Moher, D (2004). Better reporting of Harms in randomized trials: an extension of the CONSORT statement. Annals of Internal Medicine 141, 781788.
Jennings, H, Slade, M, Bates, P, Munday, E and Toney, R (2018) Best practice framework for Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) in collaborative data analysis of qualitative mental health research: methodology development and refinement. BMC Psychiatry 18, 213.
King, T (2015). An Exploratory Study of Co-Production In Recovery Colleges In The UK. (MSc thesis). University of Brighton.
Lucchi, F, Chiaf, E, Placentino, A and Scarsato, G (2018) Programma FOR: a Recovery College in Italy. Journal of Recovery in Mental Health 1, 2937.
McGregor, J, Repper, J and Brown, H (2014) ‘The college is so different from anything I have done’. A study of the characteristics of Nottingham Recovery College. Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice 9, 315.
McGregor, J, Brophy, L, Hardy, D, Hoban, D, Meddings, S, Repper, J, Rinaldi, M, Roeg, W, Shepherd, G, Slade, M, Smelson, D, Stergiopoulos, V and Group, R (2016) Proceedings of June 2015 Meeting. Recovery Colleges International Community of Practice (RCICoP).
Meddings, S, Campbell, E, Guglietti, S, Lambe, H, Locks, L, Byrne, D and Whittington, A (2015 a) From service user to student: the benefits of Recovery Colleges. Clinical Psychology Forum 268, 3237.
Meddings, S, McGregor, J, Roeg, W and Shepherd, G (2015 b) Recovery colleges: quality and outcomes. Mental Health and Social Inclusion 19, 212221.
Moore, G, Audrey, S, Barker, M, Bond, L, Bonell, C, Hardeman, W, Moore, L, O'Cathain, A, Tinati, T, Wight, D and Baird, J (2014). Process Evaluation of complex Interventions: Medical Research Council Guidance. London: MRC Population Health Science Research Network.
Newman-Taylor, K, Stone, N, Valentine, P, Hooks, Z and Sault, K (2016) The Recovery College: a unique service approach and qualitative evaluation. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal 39, 187190.
North Essex Research Network (2014) Evaluation of the Mid Essex Recovery College October – December 2013. NERN: Essex.
Oh, H (2013) The pedagogy of recovery colleges: clarifying theory. Mental Health Review Journal 18, 240.
Parker, S, Dark, F, Newman, E, Hanley, D, McKinlay, W and Meurk, C (2018) Consumers’ understanding and expectations of a community-based recovery-oriented mental health rehabilitation unit: a pragmatic grounded theory analysis. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences doi: 10.1017/S2045796017000749.
Perkins, R and Repper, J (2017) When is a ‘recovery college’ not a ‘recovery college’? Mental Health and Social Inclusion 21, 6572.
Perkins, R, Repper, J, Rinaldi, M and Brown, H (2012) ImROC 1. Recovery Colleges. London: Centre for Mental Health.
Perkins, A, Ridler, J, Hammond, L, Davies, S and Hackmann, C (2017) Impacts of attending recovery colleges on NHS staff. Mental Health and Social Inclusion 21, 1824.
Perkins, R, Meddings, S, Williams, S and Repper, J (2018) Recovery Colleges 10 Years On. Nottingham: ImROC.
Puschner, B (2018) Peer support and global mental health. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences shep27, 413414.
Rinaldi, M and Suleman, M (2012) Care Co-ordinators Attitudes to Self-Management and Their Experience of the Use of the South West London Recovery College. London: South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust.
Sampogna, G, Bakolis, I, Robinson, E, Corker, E, Pinfold, V, Thornicroft, G and Henderson, C (2017) Experience of the Time to Change programme in England as predictor of mental health service users’ stigma coping strategies. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences 26, 517525.
Segal, S and Hayes, S (2016) Consumer-run services research and implications for mental health care. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences 25, 410416.
Shepherd, G and McGregor, J (2016) Recovery Colleges – Evolution or Revolution? In Vlaamse Vereniging Geestelijke Gezondheidszorg: Ghent.
Skipper, L and Page, K (2015) Our recovery journey: two stories of change within Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. Mental Health and Social Inclusion 19, 3844.
Slade, M (2017) Implementing shared decision making in routine mental health care. World Psychiatry 16, 146153.
Slade, M, Amering, M, Farkas, M, Hamilton, B, O'Hagan, M, Panther, G, Perkins, R, Shepherd, G, Tse, S and Whitley, R (2014). Uses and abuses of recovery: implementing recovery-oriented practices in mental health systems. World Psychiatry 13, 1220.
Slade, M, McDaid, D, Shepherd, G, Williams, S and Repper, J (2017) ImROC Briefing Paper 14. Recovery: The Business Case. Nottingham: ImROC.
Sommer, J, Gill, K and Stein-Parbury, J (2018) Walking side-by-side: Recovery Colleges revolutionising mental health care. Mental Health and Social Inclusion 22, 1826.
Taggart, H and Kempton, J (2015). The Route to Employment: The Role of Mental Health Recovery Colleges. London: CentreForum.
Thornicroft, G, Mehta, N, Clement, S, Evans-Lacko, S, Doherty, M, Rose, D, Koschorke, M, Shidhaye, R, O'Reilly, C and Henderson, C (2016) Evidence for effective interventions to reduce mental-health-related stigma and discrimination. The Lancet 387, 11231132.
Toney, R, Knight, J, Hamill, K, Taylor, A, Henderson, C, Crowther, A, Meddings, S, Barbic, S, Jennings, H, Pollock, K, Bates, P, Repper, J and Slade, M (2018 a) Development and evaluation of a Recovery College fidelity measure. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.
Toney, R, Elton, D, Munday, E, Hamill, K, Crowther, A, Meddings, S, Taylor, A, Henderson, C, Jennings, H, Waring, J, Pollock, K, Bates, P and Slade, M (2018 b) Mechanisms of action and outcomes for students in Recovery Colleges. Psychiatric Services. doi: 10.1176/
United Nations General Assembly (2017) Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Human Rights Council: New York.
Watson, E (2013) What Makes a Recovery College? A Systematic Literature Review of Recovery Education in Mental Health (MHSC Dissertation). University of Nottingham, Nottingham.
Webber, M, Corker, E, Hamilton, S, Weeks, C, Pinfold, V, Rose, D, Thornicroft, G and Henderson, C (2014) Discrimination against people with severe mental illness and their access to social capital: findings from the Viewpoint survey. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences 23, 155165.
Wikgren, M (2005). Critical realism as a philosophy and social theory in information science? Journal of Documentation 61, 1122.
World Health Organization (2013) Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2020. Geneva: WHO
Zabel, E, Donegan, G, Lawrence, K and French, P (2016) Exploring the impact of the recovery academy: a qualitative study of Recovery College experiences. Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice 11, 162171.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Crowther et al. supplementary material
Crowther et al. supplementary material 1

 Word (49 KB)
49 KB

The impact of Recovery Colleges on mental health staff, services and society

  • A. Crowther (a1), A. Taylor (a2), R. Toney (a3), S. Meddings (a1), T. Whale (a4), H. Jennings (a5), K. Pollock (a6), P. Bates (a7), C. Henderson (a2) (a8), J. Waring (a9) and M. Slade (a3)...


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.