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Recovery is a Privilege

Recovery is a Privilege

I have been privileged in my recovery in many ways.

There are many forms of privilege people can “benefit from.” During my recovery, I have benefited from financial, emotional, cultural, and intellectual prowess to move forward in healing. I will make these aspects of privilege, which intersect recovery, visible to the reader. 


I can’t help but share a moment of my first internship in social work to shed more light on privilege. In 2010, I was setting out in my graduate education in social work—my first time exposed to other professional workers and the workforce.

My journey back in 2010 started in an end-of-life unit in a regional cancer center up in Johnson City in the Southern Tier of New York. Every morning, I attended nursing rounds. The nursing staff reported to the incoming day shift just around when I was supposed to arrive for my internship at the unit. During my training was the first time I heard the term: “re-hab-able,” as in, he or she is not too ridden with cancer to benefit from rehab and ‘rally back’. This concept shocked me deeply. Perhaps it surprised me because I was embarking on a recovery-based learning trajectory–or–maybe I was young, naive, and always believed that no-one is beyond repair.

Slowly, I learned not everyone shared in my philosophy of recovery. I was soon going to discover the complex web of meaning surrounding recovery & healing intersects with privilege. As time unfolded, I would learn more about the intersectionality and the ‘web’ of opportunity encircling mental health.

The next learning moment came during my work as a Recovery Specialist working for a local Mental Health Association. I was a field worker in the inner city of Yonkers, New York. During my work as a peer with one client, I would run into a stumbling block whenever I met with this individual. The client would remind me, during my motivational talks, that I have a supportive family, something my client learned for our meetings. Looking back on that experience, I can’t help but remember feeling the metaphorical frog in my throat every time this client reminded me that my family was the reason I was so successful in my recovery.

There is no question that our supports are crucial in our healing. In terms of healing, only some people have a family with a vested interest in their recovery. Not everyone recovering from a significant mental health diagnosis has a family willing to take on the challenges of supporting someone they love carrying on the fight against a mental health disorder.

The layers of privilege go deeper than just family support. There is emotional support from friends, professionals. Financial aid to carrying on payment for new medications or housing when the disruptions of symptoms take on forms that cause property loss, either from self-destruction or misplacement of goods due to memory loss or confusion.

Even down to transportation to and from treatment are shards of privilege. These aspects of fighting against a disorder cost money and resources that aren’t available to everyone carrying a mental health diagnosis.

Even more profound are the cultural implications of privilege. Many cultures do not believe in diagnosis. They do not see mental health as something that requires treatment or medical intervention upon dysregulation. I am lucky that I come from a background in which my heritage doesn’t interfere with me accessing or adherent to treatment. To this day, some cultures do not view people exhibiting symptoms from a mental health diagnosis as requiring necessary medical or psychiatric intervention, which may be life-saving or life-preserving.

Ultimately, I have been privileged to live-out my existence in a manner in which my friends, family, financial status, and cultural background have all been critical players in hurling me closer to my healing & recovery. Many people continue to struggle without the necessary resources they need to keep moving forward in their journey carrying a mental health diagnosis. So, when you encounter people in your life that need help:

  1. Reach out to them.
  2. Point them towards the necessary resources they will need to continue living without bounds.
  3. Privilege them with your helping hands and walk alongside them in their recovery.

J. Peters

J. Peters

Max Guttman '08, MSW '12, is the owner of Recovery Now, a private mental health practice. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist and disability rights advocate, Max fights for those without a voice in various New York City care systems. He received a 2020 Bearcats of the Last Decade 10 Under 10 award from the Binghamton University Alumni Association. Guttman treats clients with anxiety and depression, but specializes in issues related to psychosis or schizoaffective spectrum disorders. He frequently writes on his lived experiences with schizophrenia. "I knew my illness was so complex that I’d need a professional understanding of its treatment to gain any real momentum in recovery," Guttman says. "After undergraduate school and the onset of my illness, I evaluated different graduate programs that could serve as a career and mechanism to guide and direct my self-care. After experiencing the helping hand of my social worker and therapist right after my 'break,' I chose social work education because of its robust skill set and foundation of knowledge I needed to heal and help others." "In a world of increasing tragedy, we should help people learn from our lived experiences. My experience brings humility, authenticity and candidness to my practice. People genuinely appreciate candidness when it comes to their health and recovery. Humility provides space for mistakes and appraisal of progress. I thank my lived experience for contributing to a more egalitarian therapeutic experience for my clients."
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