Beginning in the early 1960’s, the therapeutic community movement was gaining recognition after there was some documented success at the Synanon Program in Santa Monica, CA.
The Synanon organization was originally developed by a charismatic leader, Check Dederich, as a drug rehabilitation program, By the early ’60s, Synanon had also become an alternative community, attracting people with its emphasis on living a self-examined life, where there were no secrets and lying was a cardinal taboo. Mandatory sessions with all participants were held at the end of the day with the rule that any inquiry was worthy of a response that was not limited by social constraints, but the truth was always demanded, no matter how brutal that might prove to be. These sessions were know as the “Synanon Game”. Synanon ultimately became the cultish Church of Synanon in the 1970s, and Synanon disbanded permanently in 1989 due to many criminal activities, including murder and attempted murder, and civil legal problems, including Federal tax-evasion problems with the Internal Revenue Service. Read more at the Wikipedia Link to Synanon. (Click Here)
The Criminal Justice community gravitated to the Synanon or TC model because of its punitive measures for anyone not obeying the strict structural rules and other “therapeutic” practices that could easily been seen as coming from the “cell-block” mentality. By 1975, TC’s were prevalent throughout many prisons and jail settings and a professional organization, Therapeutic Communities of American, Inc. was formed. By this time TC’s represented over 600 programs in the US.
According the Therapeutic Communities of America, Inc., the primary goal of a Therapeutic Community is to foster individual change and positive growth. This is accomplished by changing an individual’s life style through a community of concerned people working together to help themselves and each other. Putting importance into the group and not the individual was their strong suit. Clients in a TC are members of the group and not seen as patients, or clients.
The group puts high expectations on its membership, which is a good quality, but unfortunately, many of the remedial supports that are needed to help someone who has only known substance abuse and addiction since childhood, tend to be overly harsh and invalidating, causing TC’s to have a high percentage of non-compliance and overall few individuals that have the wherewithal to confront the daily challenges of the typical TC.
Some of the programs that use this modality of treatment are: Reject Straight, Straight, Inc., Daytop, Phoenix House, Odyssey House, and Gateway. Daytop has had the support of the Catholic Church in Rome and in the New York Diocese, which has given it the appearance of being a “Christian-based Program”, but in reality, TC’s are far from being based on the Christian model of treatment.
Today, there are a few TC’s that are still viable programs, but before anyone should decide that this model of care would be appropriate for themselves or a loved one, they should talk to the counselors at this site who have reviewed many TC’s, on-site, and who can tell you what goes on beneath the outward appearance that behaviors are changing for the good. This isn’t to say that TC’s have had their level of success within certain populations of addicited individuals, but one must keep in mind that all of the devotees of any model of treatment have a less that accurate apprecaition for the validity of their own idividual programs.
The bottom line is that those that are running therapeutic communities or feel that they are a good type of rehab for someone addicted are more interested in punitive measures, perhaps in revenge, for the ills that the addict has committed, but it may be just a philosophical stance, but if you are looking for ending addiction and not punishing the addict or alcoholic, than the TC should not be a choice for you.