Mechanisms of action and outcomes for students in Recovery Colleges

Rebecca Toney, Daniel Elton, Emma Munday, Kate Hamill, Adam Crowther, Sara Meddings, Anna Taylor, Claire Henderson, Helen Jennings, Justin Waring, Kristian Pollock, Peter Bates, Mike Slade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)
107 Downloads (Pure)


Recovery colleges are widespread, with little empirical research on how they work and the outcomes they produce. This study aimed to coproduce a change model characterizing mechanisms of action (how they work) and outcomes (their impact) for mental health service users who attend recovery colleges.

A systematized review identified all publications about recovery colleges. Inductive collaborative data analysis of 10 key publications by academic researchers and coresearchers with lived experience informed a theoretical framework for mechanisms of action and student outcomes, which was refined through deductive analysis of 34 further publications. A change model was coproduced and refined through stakeholder interviews (N=33).

Four mechanisms of action for recovery colleges were identified: empowering environment (safety, respect, and supporting choices), enabling different relationships (power, peers, and working together), facilitating personal growth (for example, coproduced learning, strengths, and celebrating success), and shifting the balance of power through coproduction and reducing power differentials. Outcomes were change in the student (for example, self-understanding and self-confidence) and changes in the student’s life (for example, occupational, social, and service use). A coproduced change model mapping mechanisms of action to outcomes was created.

Key features differentiate recovery colleges from traditional services, including an empowering environment, enabling relationships, and growth orientation. Service users who lack confidence, those with whom services struggle to engage, those who will benefit from exposure to peer role models, and those lacking social capital may benefit most. As the first testable characterization of mechanisms and outcomes, the change model allows formal evaluation of recovery colleges.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1222-1229
JournalPsychiatric Services
Issue number12
Early online date17 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2018


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