I’m PhD candidate nearing the end of my research. I have explored how the concept of recovery is socially constructed in Irish Mental Health Services. I’m an Irish Research Council funded scholar recipient. This is seen as the most prestigious funding opportunity for PhD students in Ireland. I’m also a professionally qualified social
worker with experience in an array of areas. I currently lecture in two Irish universities, Trinity College Dublin and Maynooth University. Some of my areas of interest and focus are mental health recovery, health-related social work, critical social theory, social constructionism, and the role of lived experience in human organisations. In terms of my PhD research, I’m awaiting my Viva, which is due to take place in September 2021. To provide readers with more context and understanding of my PhD topic, I now provide a summary of the study.
The concept of recovery conceptually, and operationally, has become a central debate in mental health systems. It is a contested idea with many countries struggling with the shift towards a holistic focus. Since 2006, recovery has been identified in Irish policy as necessitating its focus on the individual who is using services. They are now the expert and therefore in control of their recovery journey. It demands that services are driven by the voice of the service user. These subjective experiences are shaped by normative everyday interactions with services, which include professionals, policy influencers, and family members. Therefore, this study sought to explore how these key stakeholder groups co-construct meaning within the intersubjective spaces of service delivery. An interpretative qualitative inquiry encompassed by a sociological case study design was undertaken. Through semi-structured interviews with key stakeholder groups, an elicitation of different constructions of recovery were explored. The iterative process of thematic analysis led to key findings being inductively constructed. Service users reflected on their shared frustrations of the overwhelmingly focus on them to succeed in their recovery. Professionals echoed these experiences, claiming the everyday pressures to measure and be efficient leads to underwhelmingly outcomes. Policy influencers reflected on the expectations to develop a similar research base for recovery as seen in psychiatry. Family members spoke of the lack of focus on their own recovery journey. Reflecting on the core findings, the discussion centred on the often-disillusioned experiences of stakeholder groups in delivery recovery-orientated services. The dominant discursive practices of neoliberalism and objectification have led to experiences of recovery which are empty and unfulfilled. Finally, the study presents recommendations for how social constructionism and other social theorists such as Goffman, Aristotle and Levinas can help mental health systems converge towards the true, intrinsic meaning of personal recovery in practice.