CULTIVATING RECOVERY CAPTIAL
What is Recovery Capital?
The origins of recovery capital comes from the concept of ‘social capital’ which refers to the idea that, even for people with no money (traditional financial capital) there are other valuable resources that people can have that link to the networks and supports they can access both in times of need and in their everyday lives. Someone to pick you up from the airport, to help you decorate the spare bedroom or even someone who can tell you what is important and new in your neighbourhood. These are all valuable resources although they have no monetary value.
The original use of the term ‘recovery capital’ is generally attributed to two eminent American academics Robert Granfield and William Cloud who defined it as the breadth and depth of internal and external resources available to support someone in their recovery journey.
The concept gained significant traction in 2008 with the publication of a paper by Cloud and Granfield where they referred to recovery capital as something that could have a negative dimension as well as a positive one – citing things like a history of imprisonment and significant mental health problems as barriers to recovery.
The same year, 2008, William Cloud wrote a paper in partnership with the eminent recovery academic and historian William White, arguing that strengths were a better predictor of long-term recovery than deficits. This is critical as the idea of recovery capital is predicated on the assumption that we are primarily interested in strengths rather than deficits.
What inspired my interest in the idea was that here was something that could be counted and measured potentially overcoming the criticism that recovery is a vague, nebulous and ultimately unscientific concept.
So what is my role in the history of recovery capital?
Initially I collaborated with an American researcher called Alexandre Laudet who had done lots of previous research on recovery. We combined some of the fields of our shared research and wrote a short paper for the Royal Society for the Arts (RSA) in the UK, coming up with a taxonomy of recovery capital into three broad categories:
Personal Recovery Capital (PRC): those internal qualities that characterise the traits or resources needed to sustain recovery and includes things like resilience, coping skills, self-esteem, self-efficacy and communication skills
Social Recovery Capital (SRC): is akin to the definition of social capital above and links to positive groups and individuals that both actively support recovery and encourage and enable active participation in communities
Collective (now called community) Recovery Capital (CRC): This is a more complex idea and relates to the context of recovery and is about counting the resources that are available for the person to draw on to support their journey – such as good addiction treatment services, attractive and engaging mutual aid groups and peer champions, but also wider community resources like access to housing, jobs, colleges and less tangible things like the levels of trust and cooperation in the lived community
From this starting point, I was then lucky enough to team up with two wonderful colleagues, William White and Dr Teodora Groshkova to develop two of the earliest scales measuring recovery capital.
Recovery Group Participation Scale (Groshkova, Best and White, 2011) this was a 14-item scale that measured community recovery capital in the form of active engagement in recovery groups and communities
Assessment of Recovery Capital (Groshkova, Best and White, 2012) which was a 50-item scale assessing both Personal Recovery Capital (25 questions) and Social Recovery Capital (25 questions). This became widely used in research circles but had limitations in terms of applied practice.
This also prompted a brief measure called the BARC (Brief Assessment of Recovery Capital) led by an American researcher called Corey Vilsaint, which allowed an assessment of recovery capital using a 10-item scale.
However, the desire for an applied model for the Assessment of Recovery Capital led to a partnership with the Recovery Outcomes Institute in Florida that led to the development of the REC-CAP (which was originally published in a paper led by Ivan Cano in 2017) which we have continued using to this day, and which will be the focus of much of the subsequent populations.
But this is not a race for exclusivity and more recently I have been involved in the development of the SABRS scale (Strengths And Barriers Recovery Scale (Best et al, 2020; Best et al, 2021) which uses the Faces and Voices Life in Recovery questionnaire to assess changes in recovery capital over time.
The work on measures, and more importantly, how to apply them to improve recovery wellbeing continues and will continue as the data begins to roll in.
How do we cultivate it?
So we have made significant progress in measuring personal recovery capital but that is only the first part of the equation. We are increasingly turning our attention to how we can support people to grow their recovery capital.
And what is wonderful about this is that there are two ways to do this – first, by engaging in a range of recovery supportive groups and services – such as recovery community centres (or Lived Experience Recovery Organisations as we call them in the UK), recovery residences, therapeutic communities, residential rehabilitation services and mutual aid groups – but also by the uniquely magical quality of recovery capital which is recovery contagion.
Recovery is not like specialist treatment – and the second core principle (first is that recovery is strengths based) is that recovery is contagious and the ideas behind it can be cascaded through professional groups and networks.
What does this mean? As William White has argued, recovery primarily spreads from one addict in recovery to another through the processes of social learning and social control. Inspiration, support and identification are all things you will read about on this site and one of my key career goals has been to document how this process happens.
And there is something parallel that people who are not in recovery can learn. This is the process of cascade which mirrors that of contagion. While the magic of recovery is about a social process of transmission, there is an equivalent process of learning for a wide range of professionals, policy makers and academics – who can learn from the process of contagion and improve their practice through cascade of the social model for change and who can apply that model both in their own lives and in working with a range of other marginalised and excluded populations.
What this website is about is cascade. I am not going to try to change people’s lives but I am going to attempt to cascade the magic and inspiration of recovery contagion and the underlying principles of connection, hope, identity, meaning and empowerment.
Because the other magical thing about recovery – and recovery capital – is that it does not reside within people alone but also between people so that every time there is contagion, the helper and the helped both benefit from the exchange but there is a residue of capital that impacts on the setting as the ripple effect of recovery spreads not only between people in recovery but also to families, friends and communities.
I collaborate with a range of ‘community partners' and my colleagues to test and implement these ideas in practical settings. If you are involved in a LERO or RCO and would want to sign up to be a part of this partnership model, fill out the below form to start a dialogue with me.