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The First Dimension of Recovery: Clinical

If you ask people that are in recovery what recovery means and looks like to them, you are likely to get as many answers as people you ask. Similarly, when talking to a treatment provider, counselor, doctor, or social worker you are also likely to get a variety of answers. Some view recovery as reducing problematic, self-harming behaviors, and improving health. Others may see it as the ability to hold down a steady job and maintain healthy relationships.

At the Addiction Policy Forum, we like to look at recovery through five dimensions.

  • Clinical,

  • Physical,

  • Functional,

  • Social, and

  • Existential.

If you’d like to learn more about viewing recovery through five dimensions, the approach is eloquently outlined by Dr. Rob Whitley and Dr. Robert E. Drake in this article.

In this post, we discuss the first dimension, clinical. In subsequent posts we’ll delve into the other four dimensions.


This dimension focuses on the symptoms you may experience during recovery, including depression, anxiety, cravings, negative self-talk, hearing voices, insomnia, flashbacks, etc. During recovery, the goal is to reduce these symptoms as much as possible. This can often be accomplished through medications prescribed by a psychiatrist and/or behavioral and talk therapy with a counselor, psychologist, or social worker. There are a variety of other professionals that may support you in this dimension, including primary care physicians, nurses, case workers, and treatment staff.

There are a variety of ways to determine if a clinical plan is helping your recovery. For example, the severity of the symptoms that you are experiencing can be measured. To do this, the first step is to identify which symptoms you have experienced, the rate of the symptoms from 0-5 (0 not experiencing these symptoms and 5 these symptoms are occurring constantly). The symptoms can be tracked daily or weekly, and having a log can help you to identify patterns and give you an idea about when it is important to discuss your symptoms with your providers. Another way to determine if a clinical plan is helping your recovery is to track the adherence to the treatment plan. Are you taking your medications when you’re supposed to? Are you attending the therapy sessions? Are you being honest with your providers?

If you have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder like depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, etc. it will be focused and addressed within this dimension. Remember, it is essential to be honest with the staff about your symptoms and substance use. The professionals are there to help you, but they can only help if you are honest with them. It’s also important to remember that there are times when medications or treatment approaches will need to be changed. This does not mean that you are doing things wrong or that you have failed, sometimes our bodies simply adjust to the medications that we are taking or the treatment we are receiving and when this happens they become less effective. When this happens, a quick conversation with your treatment team can get you back on track.

Download our Clinical Dimension of Recovery Worksheet:

Clinical Dimension of Recovery Worksheet
Download DOCX • 13KB


Recovery: A Dimensional Approach, 2010.

Kayla Zawislak is the Lead Engagement Specialist at the Addiction Policy Forum. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work, and is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor.


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