At a basic level, the term 'empowerment' simply means 'becoming powerful'. Building personal empowerment involves reflecting on our personal values, skills and goals and being prepared to adjust our behaviour in order to achieve our goals. Personal empowerment also means being aware that other people have their own set of values and goals which may different to ours. By developing our self-awareness, understanding our individual strengths and weakness and by increasing our knowledge we can take greater control over our lives and be better equipped to make positive, informed choices.

Recovery College students have described empowerment as:

“My ability/power to do what’s important to me”

“Having the right information and feeling confident to make decisions and to deal with the consequences, whether it turns out good or bad”

“Being able to make choices”

“Plans/strategy to live my life the way I want to that makes me feel satisfied”

“Able to look at things in a different way – knowing that nothing is black and white”

“Having a voice and being heard”

Empowerment is central to recovery as it enables us to take control over our lives and to make choices which reflect our values as an individual. There can be times when we feel disempowered or unable to make decisions – this may be because of the attitudes and opinions of other people, our own emotional state or due to many other factors. It is especially important during these times to get support from others to help rebuild our sense of empowerment; this could be from a friend, family member, mental health worker or advocate.

Barriers to empowerment…

Being viewed as a patient, a label or set of symptoms rather than as an individual.

Feeling under pressure to do what other people want or expect you to do rather than being able to set your own goals, live by your own values and define what is important to you.

Assumptions that others “know best” instead of acknowledging that you are an expert in your own experiences.

What promotes personal empowerment? Recovery College student contributions:

Doing things to increase your confidence and skills.

Taking the time to get to know yourself and recognising what you’re good at and what needs a bit of improvement

Hearing other people’s recovery stories and using your mental health experiences in a positive way

Take small steps to make decisions and build up your self-belief

Learning how to be assertive and getting support to develop assertiveness skills.

Gathering the information and researching your options so you can make the best possible choice in a situation

Recognising your own achievements and using this to boost your self-esteem.