The concept of ‘recovery’ as applied to severe mental illness has fostered a cultural change in attitudes to the long-term outcome of conditions such as schizophrenia. ‘Recovery’ has a specific meaning in this context. It refers to the possibility that even in the presence of a chronic psychiatric disorder there is hope for a life that has value. The affected individual can still make a contribution to society; he or she can expect to live independently and with dignity. The term implies that our traditional medical model of illness lacks the longer-term perspective on how patients might learn to cope with their condition.