Recovery's method is essentially cognitive therapy; helping a person to be aware of possible errors or misconceptions in their perception of reality. Recovery developed its own language and methods for recognizing and labeling psychiatric symptoms and responding to them. The language emphasizes concepts such as "willpower," "muscle control," "spotting nervous symptoms," "sabotage," etc. Members practice spotting disturbing symptoms and reacting to them appropriately. Members learn to control "temper", defeatist thoughts that cause nervous symptoms, and achieve "averageness." One particular kind of temper, "angry temper," results from the belief that one has been wronged which in turn creates feelings of indignation and impatience. "Fearful temper" arises from thoughts that one may make a mistake which in turn causes feelings such as fear, shame and inadequacy. Temper amplifies nervous symptoms and behavior.
Recovery members are taught to avoid illusions of "exceptionality" and the accept themselves as "average." For instance, Recovery discourages members from describing events and situations as unbearable, when they are simply uncomfortable. Members are taught to change their behavior in "part acts" (small steps), to simply "move their muscles" to complete tasks, however small, to eventually complete larger overwhelming tasks. Use of Recovery language replaces defeatist language, discourages members from resorting to more complicated self-diagnosis, and provides a vocabulary to describe symptoms and situations. Through replacing defeatist cognitive and emotional habits, and slowly changing behavior, members "train their Wills" to achieve mental health. These methods do not conflict with other therapies, and can be used in conjunction with twelve-step programs or as an adjunct to psychotherapy.
At the meetings, members share examples from their lives that caused nervous symptoms (e.g. physical sensations, racing thoughts) the thoughts that occurred just beforehand, how they spotted them and reacted to them. Other members offer alternative ways of looking at the situation and suggest how to better handle similar symptoms in the future. For example, a person may experience "lowered feelings" (depression) because they are aiming for a perfect performance. Trying to be perfect or trying to appear perfect leads one to feel down if one makes even the slightest mistake. Members are encouraged to "endorse" (to give themselves credit) for their efforts—not for their successes. All improvements are acknowledged, no matter how small. Members are taught only to compare themselves to themselves, not to other people. Longstanding members are encouraged to share their success with the Recovery methods to help newcomers.
Following participation in Recovery, Inc., former mental patients reported no more anxiety about their mental health than the general public. Members rated their life satisfaction levels as high, or higher, than the general public. Members who had participated two years or more reported the highest levels of satisfaction with their health. Members who participated for less than two years tended to still be taking medication and living below the poverty level with smaller social networks.
Participation in Recovery, Inc. decreased members' symptoms of mental illness and the amount of psychiatric treatment needed. About half of the members had been hospitalized before joining. Following participation less than 8% had been hospitalized. Members' scores of neurotic distress decreased, and scores of psychological well-being for longstanding members were no different from members of a control group in the same community. Long-term members were being treated with less psychiatric medication and psychotherapy than newer members.