This paper clarifies the concepts of empowerment and mental health and examines their inter- relationships in a qualitative study of psychiatric consumer/survivors participating in three innovative community mental health programmes. Focus group interviews with 59 stakeholders and in-depth stories of six consumer/survivors served as the data base. We defined mental health as the development of choice, control, and community integration and the acquisition of valued resources, and our research identified indicators of each of these qualities. Moreover, we found empowering processes at the micro, meso, and macro levels of analysis that facilitated the recovery of mental health, as well as disempowering processes that impeded mental health. The findings are discussed in the context of the literature on innovative practices and the emergence of an alternative paradigm in community mental health. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.