Purpose: Mental health services increasingly incorporate the vision of recovery. This qualitative study analysed and compared experiences of recovery on prevocational services, in order to assess if users make progress towards recovery, relative to a staged recovery model. Method: Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with participants on care farms (n=14), work (n=7) and creative projects (n=5). Results: The transition from past to current lives was described as a progressive, non-linear process, with different stages guided by different goals. Participants on creative projects lacked clear goals, presented less interest in peers and high need for emotional support. Participants on work projects aimed for occupational rehabilitation, but struggled with the patient culture of the peer community. Participants on care farms aimed for daytime occupations and closer contact with society. They experienced care farms as open, real-life work settings where they could exercise responsibility and connect with people. Conclusions: Participants progressed towards recovery, as care farms, work- and creative projects empowered them to leave behind inactive, isolated or disorganized living. In day centres, users focused on self-reflection and personal development (creative projects) or on occupational performance (work projects), whereas on care farms, users fulfilled worker roles in a real-life, open community environment.Implications for RehabilitationOrganized as open communities in real-life settings, care farms facilitate the reflection on personal and social responsibility, and therefore have the potential to help users internalize worker identities and improve their motivation to progress towards recovery.Supervisors on care farms are regarded by users as close contacts within the social networks they develop on the service, a position that allows supervisors to actively engage and promote users' progress towards recovery.Elements of the farm environment (such as the "normal life", presence of family members and visitors, and nature) can serve as anchors for supporting the progress towards recovery. © 2014 Informa UK Ltd.