The therapeutic community movement has a long history of helping people to develop. Such communities come in different shapes and sizes.
Some provide a sanctuary for troubled children. Some provide both caring and educational services for teenagers. Some provide treatment programmes for recovering substance abusers.
You can find a comprehensive overview of such communities at The Planned Environmental Therapy Trust. The Trust provides a vast resource of archives on this theme. Here is the link:
Therapeutic communities often aim to provide residents with positive models they can use in their lives and work. They create an encouraging environment that enables people to live and learn together. This gives give each person the opportunity:
To take responsibility and grow.
To develop their life skills and, when appropriate, get reality checks about their behaviour.
To learn how to build good relationships and transfer these skills to other situations in their future lives and work.
The therapeutic community movement can be traced back many years. It has involved a wide range of establishments. These include Homer Lane’s ‘Little Commonwealth’, Hawkspur, Fountain House, Cassel Hospital, Henderson Hospital, Finchden Manor, Peper Harow, Cotswold Community, The Richmond Fellowship, Kingsley Hall, Daytop, Phoenix and many others.
There has also been a different emphasis on each side of the Atlantic. In the UK such communities often began by providing a safe haven for troubled people. Some then moved on towards providing therapy programmes.
In the United States, the emphasis often veered towards providing recovery programmes for substance abusers and other offenders. Such programmes could be tough but fair, enabling people to shape their future lives.
Many therapeutic communities maintained caring environments. Others stepped over the mark, however, and used controversial and questionable methods.
This helped to lead to creating a code of conduct that is adhered to by many therapeutic communities. Below is an overview of the values that over 100 such establishments signed up to in 2008.
Each of these values could be explored in greater detail. The first one, for example, focuses on a person’s requirement for ‘Healthy Attachment’. This includes their need to feel safe, cared for and able to learn from people who act as positive models.
You can discover more about these core values at the web site of the Association of Therapeutic Communities. Such values form the basis for these communities.
The following pages give a brief history of the development of therapeutic communities. You can find a much more detailed account written by Stuart Whiteley, who was Medical Director at The Henderson Hospital. The article is called The Evolution of Therapeutic Communities. You can find this by clicking the download on the following site.
Therapeutic Communities – A Brief History
The Quakers have had a long involvement in helping to create therapeutic communities. One of the first approaches was a community called The Retreat, in Yorkshire. Here is an introduction, which you can find at the following site.
The Retreat was founded in 1792 by William Tuke, a Yorkshire Quaker, and opened in 1796.
It has the distinction of having been the first establishment in England where mental illness was regarded as something from which a person could recover, and patients were treated with sympathy, respect and dignity.
The Retreat opened in 1796 in the countryside outside York. Unlike mental institutions of the time, there were no chains or manacles, and physical punishment was banned.
Treatment was based on personalised attention and benevolence, restoring the self-esteem and self-control of residents. An early example of occupational therapy was introduced, including walks and farm labouring in pleasant and quiet surroundings.
There was a social environment where residents were seen as part of a large family-like unit, built on kindness, moderation, order and trust. There was a religious dimension, including prayer.
Inmates were accepted as potentially rational beings, who could recover proper social conduct through self-restraint and moral strength.
(The Retreat) became a model around the world for more humane and psychologically-based approaches.
The title given to this approach was Moral Treatment. This did not mean imposing a certain kind of morality. Based on the Quaker tradition, it referred:
To showing respect for the patients’ human rights.
To helping them to develop through enriching relationships.
The Retreat approach was admired by many people who went on to create similar environments for troubled individuals. After awhile, however, the approach was ridiculed and largely replaced by the huge Victorian asylums.
Another Quaker, David Wills, would pioneer a similar humanistic approach in the 1930s. Until then, however, many people with psychological difficulties were locked away.
One exception was the advent of some radical Sanatoriums, often led by those in the psychoanalytic movement. Several of these sprang up in central Europe.
By and large, however, those labeled ‘insane’ or even ‘troublesome’ were often incarcerated. This created a self-fulfilling cycle of institutionalisation and dependence that would last for many decades.
The Little Commonwealth
The Little Commonwealth is seen one of the first experiments in helping young people to grow in a community environment. Homer Lane, its leader, is often seen as the guiding light. But the idea was actually driven by George Montagu, a wealthy benefactor.
A.S. Neill, the founder of Summerhill, said that Lane was the most influential educator he met in his life. Lane was, however, a controversial figure. Looking at the bare facts of the Little Commonwealth, the National Archives says:
The Little Commonwealth was set up by a group of people who had been impressed by the work of American Child ‘Republics’, which were involved in the education and rehabilitation of maladjusted children.
A Committee was formed to further the experiments in Britain, on which George Montagu was prominent. Through his uncle, the Earl of Sandwich, premises at Flowers Farm, Batcombe, were made available and in 1913 a superintendent was appointed and preparations made for the arrival of the first children.
These were child offenders, deemed unsuited to Borstal or reformatory treatment, often referred to the Little Commonwealth by Magistrates. Eventually about fifty children of all ages from babies to late teens lived in the community, which was run entirely by the children, who made their own laws and farmed the land.
In 1917 Homer Lane, the superintendent was accused of misconduct by three girl citizens. The resulting Home Office enquiry did not confirm the allegations, but the Little Commonwealth was closed, due to public feeling, in 1918.
Homer Lane helped to create an environment in which the youngsters took responsibility for making and following their own laws. There were many group discussions that focused on shared responsibility. Some people see these sessions as the precursors to aspects of group therapy
Here are some excerpts from a lecture that Lane gave on the approach that was used in the Little Commonwealth.
The chief point of difference between the Commonwealth and other reformatories and schools is that in the Commonwealth there are no rules and regulations except those made by the boys and girls themselves.
All those who are fourteen years of age and over are citizens, having joint responsibility for the regulation of their lives by the laws and judicial machinery organized and developed by themselves.
At the present moment the population of the Commonwealth is five adults, four of whom are women, forty-two boys and girls of fourteen to nineteen years of age, and nine younger children.
This population is distributed among three ‘families,’ grouped by congeniality; each person is free to choose his own place of residence. Boys and girls live in the same families, sharing equally the responsibility for family maintenance and government, as well as the responsibility for the welfare of the younger children.
The adult element studiously avoid any assumption of authority in the community, except in connection with their respective departmental duties as teachers or as supervisors of labour within the economic scheme.
The citizens are paid wages in Commonwealth currency for their work in the various departments, and provide their own food, clothing, and recreations to whatever degree of comfort and elegance their earning capacity will permit.
The wage paid corresponds to that of the outside world in similar employments. The citizens are occupied chiefly with earning a living, to a regrettable exclusion of any considerable time for formal school-work.
This, of course, does not apply to the children under fourteen, who have no work to do other than that chosen by themselves after the school-work is finished.
The improvident citizen, the slacker, if he is unable to pay his own expenses, must be supported from the public treasury, the funds of which are raised by taxation.
If a discontented citizen causes any damage, fails to pay for his board, or runs away, the expense of misdemeanour is borne by the taxpayers.
If the citizens’ court imposes any penalty upon an erring citizen which interferes with his employment, the community must provide him with necessities.
Thus it may be seen that in the Commonwealth there is a direct relationship between prosperity and morality. What better field could there be for the cultivation and growth of a code that is based upon the spontaneous virtues of adolescent human nature?
The Commonwealth closed after Lane’s departure. But it provided many lessons – both good and bad – that helped others in the future.
You can learn more about the approach in two books. These are Elsie Bazeley’s Homer Lane and The Little Commonwealth and Judith Stinton’s A Dorset Utopia: the Little Commonwealth and Homer Lane.
Hawkspur and David Wills
David Wills was a Quaker who played a key part in creating environments that helped people to grow.
Born in 1903, he began his career working in schools for ‘maladjusted children’ and custodial institutions for young people. The web site Quakers in the World picks up the story.
In 1935 he wrote an article for The Friend, which had significant implications for the rest of his life. The article called for a bold experiment in the treatment of young offenders.
His ideas centred round group working on environmental projects, in a community setting. He argued that this would be a more constructive way of dealing with young people who would otherwise have been in custody.
At the same time the new Q Camps Committee, supported by British Friends’ Penal Reform Committee, was developing ideas for ‘Q Camps’ for troubled young people.
Its secretary, Dr Marjorie Franklin, read the article in the Friend, and invited him to join them in setting up their first camp. In May 1936, Hawkspur Camp opened, on Hill Hall Common in Essex, with David Wills as Camp Chief.
Hawkspur had many features of what would now be described as a therapeutic community. Communalism (living and working together) was a central idea, as was democracy. Rules and penalties were set and applied by the Camp Council to which every resident could contribute.
Writing much later, in Forgotten Pioneers, Malcolm Pines explained:
David Wills understood that the lads who came to the camp were profoundly dissatisfied with themselves; they were failures who hated themselves.
Their protection was hating the world about them. On discovering that they were given freedom, not discipline, they had to begin to discipline themselves …
In him the boys sought the loving parent they had not had and with great skill and understanding he lived through the ‘corrective emotional experience’ they sought.
They attached themselves to him and to his wife. Time and time again the lads would test his capacity to go on loving in the face of delinquency and bad behaviour.”
David Wills, back row, standing second from right.
David and his wife Ruth went on to run several pioneering communities. These included Barns House and Bodenham Manor School.
At the beginning of the 1970s I travelled to meet David, who had retired and lived in the Cotswolds. By then many of his ideas were being used in therapeutic communities.
Much of the conversation was around helping young people to enjoy a sense of wonder and learn from these experiences. But then we moved on to the practical points, such as:
How can you create an environment in which young people can grow?
How can you then help them to learn from positive models?
How can you help them to translate this learning into their daily lives and work?
By then David had also written influential books, such as Spare The Child. Published in 1971, this described the transformation of the Cotswold Approved School into a therapeutic community called The Cotswold Community. The leader of that community was Richard Balbernie. You can read about his work at John Whitwell’s site, which can be found here.
Looking back, David also acknowledged his debt to many people who had helped him along the way. One of these was a psychiatrist called Marjorie Franklin.
Marjorie Franklin and
Planned Environmental Therapy
Marjorie was a prime mover in helping to set up the Q Camps. She also had a profound effect in the development of therapeutic communities. In addition, she coined the term Planned Environmental Therapy.
The following overview of her work is based on that given by Maurice Bridgeland, in his book Pioneer Work with Maladjusted Children.
Marjorie was born into a well-to-do family prominent in banking and liberal Jewish circles. She initially aimed to become a teacher, but soon switched to studying medicine. Malcolm explains:
After basic medical training, Marjorie Franklin went to New York, to specialize in psychiatry under Adolf Meyer … Subsequently she studied psychoanalysis with Sándor Ferenczi in Budapest.
Returning to the UK, she took a strong interest in how psychoanalysis could help people from less privileged background. This led to her acting as consultant to bodies such as Howard League for Penal Reform. She also co-founded what would later become The Portman Clinic.
Malcolm explains how she then became interested in new approaches to working with young people.
While working as a junior medical officer at the Portsmouth Borough Mental Hospital in the early 1920s, Marjorie Franklin became interested in the relationship between mental illness and the patient’s environment.
She developed a therapeutic concept, which she called “Planned Environmental Therapy” (PET), and tried it out at the so-called Q Camps.
According to this milieu-therapy, theoretically inspired by positions of Donald W. Winnicott, Anna Freud, Otto Shaw and I. D. Suttie, patients live in a therapeutic community and are treated by a psychoanalytically supervised staff team. The therapy is based on establishing non-authoritarian, loving and accepting relationships.
The first practical project of the Planned Environmental Therapy, the Hawkspur camp for maladjusted men, was set up in 1936 by Marjorie Franklin and her colleague David Wills, it was followed by a camp for maladjusted boys in the 1940s.
Another project was the Children’s Social Adjustment (CSA), which also followed the PET principles. In 1966 Franklin founded the Planned Environmental Therapy Trust (PETT) to promote research, discussion and training regarding the PET approach.
You can read more of Malcolm’s description of Marjorie’s work at the following link.
During The Second World War
Stuart Whiteley explains how some new approaches to psychiatric treatment during the war contributed to the development of therapeutic communities. He writes:
In the early years of the war, the need was established to find methods to cope with the psychiatric casualties of war that had led to the masses of so-called ‘shell-shock’ victims of the First World War and their mishandling by the authorities; varying from punitive excesses to long-standing invalidism.
Two hospitals were set up primarily for this task, at Northfield in Birmingham and Mill Hill in London.
The medical staff at Northfield was made up largely of psychoanalysts with a Tavistock Clinic background, explains Whiteley.
The unit, which was in the grounds of an old Victorian Asylum, was dedicated to caring for ‘Military Psychiatric Casualties’. The criteria for selecting the patients was they must have a reasonable chance of returning to military duty.
Wilfred Bion and John Rickman headed the unit. Whilst serving with distinction in the First War, Bion had first hand knowledge of the traumas it could produce. In addition to traditional activities, such as daily parades, certain innovations were introduced. Whiteley explains:
What was an innovation, in this First Northfield Experiment, were the discussion groups which Bion initiated. The task of the group was to study its own internal tensions, which stood in the way of the individuals performing their military duties.
Such an approach led to some improvements in patients, but it was counter to what the authorities expected. Bion and Rickman were soon dismissed, eventually being succeeded by Sigmund Foulkes. You can find a more detailed account of this work in Tom Harrison’s book Bion, Rickman, Foulkes and the Northfield Experiments.
Foulkes was born in Karlsruhe and served with the German army in the First War. Affected by his experiences, he worked with the neurologist Kurt Goldstein, helping to rehabilitate soldiers suffering from brain damage.
Resolving to become a psychoanalyst, he developed a holistic philosophy of treatment. Becoming director of the outpatient clinic at the Frankfurt Psychoanalytic Clinic, he worked alongside people such as Erich Fromm.
Moving to England in 1933, he started by doing group psychotherapy work in Exeter. Taking British Citizenship, he changed his family name from Fuchs to Foulkes.
A key aspect of his work was recognising the value that the group members provided for each other. The therapist’s role was to facilitate this process. Bearing this in mind, he instituted regular group meetings at Northfield.
Strongly influenced by social psychology, he laid great emphasis on creating a healthy culture and environment. Whiteley says:
Foulkes came to view the whole hospital as the current ‘social Field’ and the behaviour of the individuals within it as being subject to the forces inherent in that field.
The work at Northfield included several other people who had done pioneering ventures in similar fields. David Carroll had participated in the Q Camps and Harold Bridger had done ‘community action’ work in Peckham. This contributed to team’s awareness of group dynamics and how these could be used for good.
Tom Main, who went on to become Medical Director at the Cassel Hospital, took over Northfield towards the end of the war. Stuart Whiteley says that Main, who had previous military experience, positioned the work so it was acceptable to the authorities. At the same time, he supported Foulkes’ views on treatment. Whiteley writes:
The major contribution of Main was perhaps to acknowledge the wider concept of the interrelated systems at work in this setting, and which needed clarification of the issues involved, and then resolution of the conflict through negotiation.
Main is often credited with coining the phrase ‘therapeutic community’, though there is some dispute about this matter. Under his leadership Northfield flourished, however, and built an international reputation. He also believed the work done there provided a model for future psychiatric hospitals.
Maxwell Jones – Mill Hill
and The Henderson Hospital
During the same period a similar project was being run at Mill Hill, a former public school in North London. The staff mainly came from the Maudsley Hospital, a psychiatric teaching hospital.
Maxwell Jones played in a key part in the project at Mill Hill. After the war he did similar work in Dartford, before being invited to run a unit at Belmont Hospital. This eventually became The Henderson Hospital, one of the most famous therapeutic communities in the world. Later he did work in the United States and also at Dingleton in Scotland.
A South African by birth, Maxwell grew up in Scotland and graduated from medical school in Edinburgh. Moving to the Maudsley Hospital, he became interested in psychosomatic illnesses. Assigned to the Mill Hill project, he worked with soldiers suffering from various diseases.
Max, as he was known, believed many of the illnesses had a psychosomatic element. Then came a huge step. Whilst still doing one to one work with the patients, he began introducing the concepts to large groups of patients.
Such sessions laid the foundations for what would become large group meetings in therapeutic communities. You can read more about Max’s approach – and what happened next – at the following link.
After conclusive physiological studies with a noted cardiologist, they confirmed that the disorder was essentially psychosomatic in nature and so he proceeded to find ways to alleviate the condition.
From lectures and demonstrations on anatomy and physiology to 100 patients at a time, question and answer sessions turned into group discussions and the formation of a therapeutic community.
An innovation in his programme was the inclusion of young nursing assistants – women who were conscripted – who found a new role, that of social therapists.
Following the war, Max was put in charge of a social rehabilitation unit for the most seriously disturbed prisoners-of-war. (At Dartford) he took along many of his social therapists and duplicated his community approach adding contacts with the outside community through families and potential employers.
In 1947, he was made medical director of the Industrial Neurosis Unit (later renamed the Social Rehabilitation Unit) located on the grounds of Belmont Hospital (which, when made autonomous, he named Henderson Hospital). There, for the next 12 years, he concentrated on methods of rehabilitation for people with chronic character disorders.
The Henderson Hospital
Max continued to innovate during his time at Mill Hill and Dartford, but his most radical steps came at The Henderson. (He eventually renamed the unit at Belmont The Henderson Hospital, after his mentor, Professor David Henderson.) During his time there he took the following steps to help the patients.
To hold large group meetings – sometimes of over 100 people – in which the patients and staff discussed issues arising in the therapeutic community.
To ensure that ‘therapy’ went beyond a patient talking with a doctor and involved the patient getting help from the whole community.
To encourage free communication between doctors, sisters, nurses and patients.
To change the role of nurses to ‘social therapists’.
To encourage people at all levels to express their views.
To hold staff meetings geared to solving any issues between staff that may affect the running of the community.
To create a culture of responsibility throughout the community, including encouraging the patients to take responsibility for shaping their futures.
To use many techniques – such as lectures, group discussions, psychodrama and other tools – that could help to facilitate growth.
To focus on helping the patients to integrate in society when moving on from the therapeutic community.
As mentioned above, one of the most radical moves was to change the role of the nurses in the unit. Writing in his article Maxwell Jones and His Work in the Therapeutic Community, Stijn Vandevelde says:
Jones himself regarded the nurses ‘the most important members of staff concerning a large number of aspects’.
Because of the low wages and the long working hours it became more and more difficult to attract young English women to do the work, so Jones was compelled to employ girls from abroad, especially from the Scandinavian countries.
Instead of the term ‘nurse’ Jones prefers to call them ‘social therapists’ whose function it is to be representatives of the ‘culture of the Unit’.
Quoting Stuart Whiteley, Stijn Vandevelde goes on to give an overview of the different phases in the development of the approach. He says:
The first decade in the existence of the Henderson Hospital is characterised by the conception and growth of many ideas and opinions about the therapeutic community concept.
Increasingly the work done at the Henderson received recognition and admiration, even though many people remained suspicious.
The next decade (1957-67) is mostly characterised by the search for more theoretical speculation, based on wide scientific research. Especially R.Rapoport is seen as the prime force behind a number of research papers, who were later put together in a volume called ‘Community as Doctor’.
From 1967 till the present day we can state that the Henderson Hospital has specialised in the treatment of people with character disorders and at the same time formed a sociotherapeutic model within the framework of the therapeutic community.
The Henderson has closed its doors since Stijn wrote this article. Whilst being given national funding it had a 6 month waiting list of applicants to join its programme.
After becoming part of a National Health Trust, however, the funding became more difficult to find. This led to a reduction is patients and the eventual closure of the community. It closed in 2007.
Maxwell Jones left the Henderson in 1959. After a period of work in the USA, he returned to Scotland to create another therapeutic community at Dingleton, Melrose.
He again met resistance from some quarters, but by then his approach had gained a world-wide reputation. This led to him doing consultant work in many nations until he died in 1990.
Max had a great influence on other pioneers in the therapeutic movement. You can learn more about his ideas in the book that chronicles his conversations with Dennie Briggs.
The 1950s, 60s and early 70s saw the flowering of many other therapeutic communities. Some, such as Kingsley Hall, co-founded by Ronald Laing, were extremely controversial. You can read about their approach at the following link.
The following pages include an introduction to some of the other communities that came to the fore during that period.
George Lyward and Finchden Manor
George Lyward was a charismatic educationalist who lived between 1894 and 1973. He is best known for running Finchden Manor, a therapeutic community for disturbed boys.
Bus loads of social workers travelled to its location, near Tenterden in Kent, to seek the secret of his success. Walking around the ramshackle huts, they saw boys playing guitars, kicking footballs, tending gardens and, in some cases, engaged in study.
Finally the visitors crammed into the large hall and bombarded George with questions. “What therapy do you believe in,” they asked. “What is the staff’s role? They seem to do little except watch the boys.”
“You are right, they watch the boys,” said George. “Watching is one of the hardest things to do in life. Our staff watch the boys painting, mending cars, playing music, helping each other or whatever. They look for when the boy ‘comes alive’. They then nurture the boy’s talent and help them to shape their future life.”
George Lyward’s work reached a wide audience in 1954, with the publication of Michael Burn’s book, Mr Lyward’s Answer. Visitors to Finchden saw the physical chaos, but also something deeper. Some called it ‘poetry’. George – affectionately known to all as the ‘Chief’ – created an environment in which troubled boys were able to heal themselves.
He grew up in London, near Clapham Junction station. His father was an opera singer, but soon left the family home and seldom returned. His mother was a primary school teacher who, to make ends meet, lived with her sisters.
George grew up with his mother, two aunts and two sisters. Contracting poliomyelitis early in life, he had a weak leg, which laid him open to bullying. Channelling his energy into studies, he won a scholarship to Emanuel School, a public school in Battersea.
Becoming a prefect, he was put in charge of the lower fifth, known as the ‘toughs’. He then became aware of his ability to get on with ‘difficult’ boys.
Leaving Emanuel, George worked in two preparatory schools and then pursued a choral scholarship at Cambridge. He loved his time at the university, taking the lead role in many musical productions. Studying to become a parson, he changed his mind two weeks before his planned ordination.
He went on to a series of teaching posts but, in 1928, suffered a serious breakdown following the breaking of an engagement to marry. George then spent some time recovering in a nursing home. John Prickett later said:
It was while he was recovering at this nursing home that Dr Crichton-Miller (who was treating George) asked him to help some boy patients of his. He was so successful in this that eventually, as the demand for his help increased, he moved, at the suggestion of Dr Rees, to the farm of one of Rees’s old patients known as the Guildables, in Edenbridge, Kent.
That was in 1930. By 1935 he had 20 boys there and was looking out for better and bigger accommodation. And so it was that he eventually moved to Finchden Manor, where (including a break for evacuation to the Welsh border during the war) he worked for 38 years.
George had the ability to immediately reach young people, especially those who were ‘fighting themselves or fighting the world’. Finchden provided a sanctuary where there was little point in fighting anybody.
Once the boys experienced this realisation – and the feeling of others caring for them – they could get on with their lives. Let’s explore some of the principles that were followed at Finchden.
Connecting with troubled boys
Tom Robinson, the musician and radio presenter, explains his own introduction to Finchden, particularly how George Lyward immediately connected with him.
One night in the winter of 1966 I swallowed a handful of pills in a boarding school dorm to try and end my life, having fallen hopelessly and unrequitedly in love with another boy.
Back then homosexuality was still punishable by four years in prison and at 16, awash with hormones and self-loathing, I’d rather have died than admit to anyone who and what I truly was.
My subsequent spell in a clinic with tests, sedatives, antidepressants and psychoanalysis did little to improve my frame of mind. Today my despairing father was driving me through the Weald of Kent towards my last hope – an interview at Finchden Manor.
At the very edge of Tenterden a curving gravel drive hedged in with overgrown yew gave suddenly onto the courtyard of a battered Jacobean manor house.
Even as we parked, several unshaven faces stared out through dirty leaded windows that had been broken and mended again and again. They were framed with hair like – not Beatles or even Rolling Stones – but like, well, girls. It was January 1967.
As George Lyward stepped forward to take my hand in both of his, and hold it for longer than felt comfortable, I became aware of a formidable charisma.
‘Hello,’ he said, looking at me piercingly for a moment over his glasses before adding softly ‘You’re very lonely aren’t you?’
I practically burst into tears on the spot. After all the drugs and psychiatric nonsense, here at last was someone who understood, saw at once where I was hurting and knew how to make the hurting stop. I instinctively trusted him with my life.
That lunchtime we sat jammed rowdily together on wooden benches at trestle tables. Hygiene was basic yet the food was edible, the shouting banter good natured, and the atmosphere vigorously alive. It couldn’t have been more different from the Quaker boarding school I’d just left.
At the end of my visit, Mr Lyward told me Finchden was currently full with a long waiting list, and in any case didn’t normally take boys as ‘sick’ as me. Then he asked quite suddenly: ‘Do you want to come?’ I seized the lifeline, and stayed six years.
Practicing the art of ‘losing time’
and experiencing life
Time seemed to stand still at Finchden. Certainly there was a schedule: regular meals each day, animals to be fed and, most importantly in the Chief’s eyes, stage plays to be performed – either for others in the community or for the local neighbourhood.
The boys were given ‘a respite’. Nobody was forcing them to do anything – so they could experiment without unreasonable expectations from authorities. Tom Robinson explains that:
Most of us who came to Finchden had been excluded from school for one reason or another. For some it was an alternative to borstal, mental hospital or – as in my own case – simple extinction. None of us were much interested in each other’s past lives – all that counted was the kind of person you were in the here and now.
But – and it was a big ‘but’ – people quickly understood the consequences of their actions. If a new boy decided to ‘fight’ by throwing bricks through the dorm windows, they and their room mates froze in the wind. If the dishes were not washed up, nobody had hot food.
The act of living together – and seeing the effects of one’s actions – was real reality therapy. Cast free from ‘threats’ – past or future, real or imagined – the boys began to develop their own rhythms.
They learned to fully experience life in the moment and, as a consequence, follow their true selves. Their future lives may be unpredictable, but this sense of being real provided a good start.
Providing many different forms of stimulation
– including ‘paradoxical interventions’
Despite its timelessness, Finchden was full of surprises. Tom Robinson explained that there might be breakfast outdoors, strawberries for tea, a trip to the seaside, a formal dance, months of preparation for a Shakespeare play or even double pocket-money one week. One morning, out of the blue, there might be an instruction for a ‘command performance’. The boys were expected to put on a cabaret to be delivered that night.
George Lyward was a master of ‘paradoxical interventions’ – actions that didn’t appear to make sense – but which had a profound effect. When I met him at Finchden, he talked about a boy who consistently turned up late for breakfast. (Despite being tolerant on other issues, George was insistent on meal times being observed properly.)
The boy who arrived late was worried about the reaction, only to be met Mr Lyward saying: “Give this boy a hot breakfast.” (A rare treat.) “In fact, give him double bacon and eggs.” The boy was never late again.
Finchden produced an interesting alumni, several of whom went on to become musicians. One of these, Alexis Korner, is pictured below revisiting the community.
Modern society spends enormous amounts of money caring for the perpetrators and victims of crime and family breakdown. The approaches adopted by Finchden and other communities may have been unorthodox.
But they also produced financial benefits; such as society not having to pay for a lifetime of care for some people. Talking about troubled teenagers, Mr Lyward’s view was:
Let them have their childhoods. Let them do all the things they want to do as children. If they don’t do them now, they’ll do much worse things later.
His approach had a profound impact on many young people’s lives. The language he used – and the way he connected with people – was different.
This was exemplified by a theatrical sketch presented by some boys at a public performance. One boy appeared dressed as George Lyward. Another as a prospective new boy arriving at Finchden. The dialogue went:
GL: And what can we do for you, my boy?
Boy: Please … I want to come to Finchden.
GL: And what is the matter with you, my boy?
Boy: I’ve got schizophrenia. (Bursts into tears.)
GL: There, there, my boy. (Pats Boy vaguely on head.) You shall come to us.
Boy: Oh, thank you, sir! What shall I bring?
GL: Bring? Bring nothing.
Boy: Nothing, sir?
GL: Well – ah – my boy – bring a toothbrush. And – ah – if you have one, bring a dream.
You can find out more about George Lyward’s work at:
Peper Harow was residential community set up in 1970 by Melvyn Rose, who was himself inspired by George Lyward’s work. It was located near Godalming in Surrey.
Melvyn led a team that created an environment in which the residents were expected to help each other to heal. There were high expectations on the youngsters, some of whom could be violent.
Like many such establishments, the centre piece of the work was the daily community meeting. Writing many years later, Melvyn explained:
There were very few rules. One of them was that everyone had to come to the daily community meeting. Having done so they might be confronted about their behaviour, but the responsibility for the outcome was a matter for the whole community.
Accordingly, everyone had to be present. They would be carried in if necessary and they would be physically prevented from leaving. This was essential for young people with almost no self-control, yet with compulsively driven behaviour.
Managing physical containment is not easy, as any parent attempting to hold a tantrumming two year old knows. What hurts the container as much as a bloody nose, is the accompanying hatred, despite one’s concerned and loving risk taking.
It was essential that the young people faced up to behaviour, even if this made confrontation unavoidable. However, they would still have to be left in no doubt that despite its implacability, the group cared for them and held them in esteem.
Peper Harow gained a fine reputation. But, like several other communities, became the victim of changes in the authorities’ policies towards funding.
You can read a full account of the Peper Harow approach in Melvyn’s book The Trouble With Teenagers. This can be downloaded as a PDF from the following link.
The Richmond Fellowship
Elly Jansen founded The Richmond Fellowship in 1959. Thirty-years-old at the time, she had grown up in Amsterdam and had just finished theological studies in London. The Mental Health Act of 1959 made some provision for patients leaving psychiatric hospitals, saying:
Under this section it is the duty of the local health authority and the local social services authority to provide after-care services for you. This should be done in cooperation relevant voluntary agencies.
These services have to be provided until the health authority and social services are satisfied that you are no longer in need of them.
Unfortunately there was little provision for patients being discharged from the older style asylums that dominated skylines around the country. Elly decided to fill this need.
Buying a house in Richmond, Surrey, she invited several discharged psychiatric patients to live with her in what became known as a ‘half way house’. Some local authorities had misgivings about the approach, but others became firm supporters.
Elly, like many pioneers, was sometimes controversial, but The Richmond Fellowship went from strength to strength. Nowadays it has many specialist services and is represented around the globe. You can get more information on the official site.
Elly’s original idea called for the ‘residents’ – as they were known – living and working together in the half way house. At first there were few staff members, which increased people’s need to become more self-reliant.
The Fellowship’s success led to more houses being purchased and developing specific kinds of therapeutic communities. (For example, I ran a RF community dedicated to caring for young people.) Throughout its history, however, the Fellowship placed an enormous emphasis on self-help.
Sometimes this produced difficult dilemmas. For example: How do you: a) provide sufficient ‘professional staff care’ to satisfy the paying local authorities, whilst at the same: b) provide enough challenge to ensure the residents take responsibility?
This called for making crystal-clear contracts at the outset with both the residents and the local authorities. The Richmond Fellowship frequently managed this balance successfully. Other communities took a more direct approach.
The ‘Confrontational’ Therapeutic Communities
Many communities in the UK were set up to help people with psychiatric problems. In the USA many were set up to work with criminals and substance abusers. These included treatment programmes such as Daytop and, more controversially, Synanon.
Daytop was founded in 1957 by Father William B. O’Brien, who worked at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. Appalled by street crime and the tragedies it caused, he found the main cause revolved around drugs.
Most ‘conventional’ treatment of addicts seemed to fail, so he began exploring other approaches. Coincidentally, several key figures in Brooklyn had been charged with finding more effective ways to treat addicts.
One of these people, Dr. Dan Casriel, visited Synanon, an experimental community for addicts, on the same day as Father O’Brien. Synanon, and its founder, were later to be discredited, but the two visitors were impressed by aspects of what they saw.
They went on to start Daytop, which continue to do outstanding work to this day. You can learn more about the community’s approach at:
One element of Synanon’s work that was adapted at Daytop was the concept of ‘The Game’. This was a group therapy session where addicts confronted each other about their behaviour.
At a given point, everybody in the group would focus on one person. They would then outline – in great detail – how that person behaved irresponsibly. The theory behind the need to confront the addict is outlined below.
Such sessions could be brutal. The group members all turned as one and, for around 15 minutes, pointed out how the selected person avoided taking responsibility.
The effect of 10 people, for example, pointing out a person’s shortcomings could be extremely powerful. There was little defence. Then, as if a tap had been turned, the group members switched their attention to confronting another person
Such communities maintained this was the only way to get through an addict’s defences. They also argued that the person was in a caring environment where, after being broken down, they would be built up again.
(During my training for working with addicts, I was actually on the receiving end of ‘The Game’ for around 15 minutes. It was an illuminating experience, but not one to repeat too often.)
Confrontational approaches became more common in therapeutic communities and other aspects of psychotherapy. Whilst useful – even vital – in some cases, the approach could also overstep the mark. Much depended on the initial ‘contract’ between:
a) The person seeking help.
b) The group providing support.
If the person wanted to be confronted, that was fine, but sometimes this was not the case. This could lead to further breakdowns and challenging behaviour.
Stories of psychological abuse in the confrontations communities began to filter into mainstream. This was accompanied by an increased awareness of sexual and other abuse that had taken place in many other institutions over the past decades.
This produced a backlash and a greater emphasis on regulation. Whilst this was vital in order to protect people, it also had the effect of dampening enthusiasm for many humanistic approaches.
At the same time, however, another avenue opened for adults who were seeking help to life’s challenges. Whilst not open to children, self-help groups played an important part in helping people to grow. These embodied some characteristics of groups in therapeutic communities.
The Rise Of Self-Help Groups
During the 1970s, 80s and 90s more people began to realise: “We are not alone.” Many different groups of people decided to take charge of their lives. They chose to meet with kindred spirits, provide support and work together to achieve their goals. These groups included, for example:
Recovering alcoholics and drug users – such Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups.
Survivors of sexual abuse – such as those who had suffered in their families or been abused by members of the church.
Medical patients – such as those working through cancer treatment, living with HIV and experiencing other illnesses.
People experiencing a loss – such as those who had suffered a bereavement.
In the medical field, for example, people gained strength from each other at places such as The Bristol Cancer Help Centre – now the Penny Brohn Centre – and many other treatment centres.
Doctors and nurses saw such groups as an aid to medical treatment, rather than a hindrance. For example, the former US Surgeon General, Charles Everett Koop, said:
My years as a medical practitioner, as well as my own first-hand experience, has taught me how important self-help groups are in assisting their members in dealing with problems, stress, hardship and pain …
Today, the benefits of mutual aid experienced by millions of people who turn to others with a similar problem to attempt to deal with their isolation, powerlessness, alienation, and the awful feeling that nobody understands.
Self-help groups bring together many of the strands already mentioned in this article. So let’s consider one of the key principles that underpin this approach.
People can share their feelings and get support from
others who have been through similar experiences
This is often the first step. Recognising that others have been through similar experiences to yourself – and come through them successfully – can be of enormous help.
Imagine you have been abused. The pain is awful, but it is compounded if, when you voice your feelings. Why? Because the person who abused you may say:
“That is wrong. I did not hurt you. And if you tell anybody, I will say you are lying.”
For years you have been told that your feelings are wrong. Even when you express them, you are the person who seems to be on trial. Failing to see a way out, you doubt your own sanity.
Sounds far-fetched? Perhaps, but this is the bind experienced by many sufferers. This first steps for such people are:
To be able to express their feelings openly in a supportive environment.
To have their feelings acknowledged as real – they are not mad.
To learn how other people have found ways to manage similar experiences successfully.
One person expressed their feeling in such a group by saying:
My first reaction was one of relief. For years I felt there must be something wrong with me. Then others in the group began to explain their experiences.
Suddenly I did not feel alone. It was okay to accept my feelings, even though it took months to express them properly.
Then, one day, somebody in the group told about the time they had decided to ditch their anger and move on. I’d heard the words before, but this time it made sense. That was when I decided to get on with my life.
People can become addicted to self-help groups. Is that a bad thing? It depends on the relationship they have with the group. After all, they may have shared more with those people – who they now consider kindred spirits – than with many others they know.
The self-help movement has, by and large, been a force for good. People are able to take the tools they like and use these to live fulfilling lives.
The therapeutic community approach suffered severe setbacks from the 1980s onwards. Some of the key principles were carried forward, however, particularly into the work of self-help groups.
Today some such communities still thrive. You can discover more about these in this article by Penelope Campling. She is also the author of Therapeutic Communities: Past, Present and Future.
The therapeutic community movement has had many ups and downs. Ever since the Retreat in York, however, many such communities have helped people to develop their inner strength. This has enabled them to live more fulfilling lives.
This article has included many links to the various aspects of therapeutic community work. A good place to start, however, is the Planned Environment Therapy Trust. Here is the link.