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Therapeutic community is a term applied to a participative, group-based approach to long-term mental illness, personality disorders and drug addiction. The approach is usually residential with the clients and therapists living together, is based on milieu therapy principles and includes group psychotherapy as well as practical activities.

Therapeutic communities have and gained some reputation for success in rehabilitation and patient satisfaction in Britainmarker and abroad. In Britain, 'democratic analytic' therapeutic communities have tended to specialise in the treatment of moderate to severe personality disorders and complex emotional and interpersonal problems. The evolution of therapeutic communities in the United States has followed a different path with hierarchically arranged communities (or concept houses) specialising in the treatment of drug and alcohol dependence.

The term was coined by Tom Main in his 1946 paper, "The hospital as a therapeutic institution", and subsequently developed by others including Maxwell Jones, R. D. Laing at the Philadelphia Association, David Cooper at Villa 21, and Joshua Bierer.


Under the influence of Maxwell Jones, Main, Wilmer and others (Caudill 1958; Rapoport 1960), combined with the publications of critiques of the existing mental health system (Greenblatt et al. 1957, Stanton and Schwartz 1954) and the sociopolitical influences that permeated the psychiatric world towards the end of and following the second World War, the concept of the therapeutic community and its attenuated form - the therapeutic milieu - caught on and dominated the field of inpatient psychiatry throughout the 1960’s. The aim of therapeutic communities was a more democratic, user-led form of therapeutic environment, avoiding the authoritarian and demeaning practices of many psychiatric establishments of the time. The central philosophy is that clients are active participants in their own and each other's mental health treatment and that responsibility for the daily running of the community is shared among the clients and the staff. 'TC's have sometimes eschewed or limited medication in favor of group-based therapies.

In the late 1960s within the US correctional system, the Asklepion Foundation initiated therapeutic communities in the Marion Federal Penitentiarymarker and other institutions that included clinical intervention based upon Transactional Analysis, the Synanon Game, internal twelve-step programs and other therapeutic modalities. Some of these programs lasted into the mid 1980s, such as the House of Thought in the Virginia Correctional system, and were able to demonstrate a reduction of 17% in recidivism in a matched-pair study of drug-abusing felons and sex offenders who participated in the program for one year or more.

Modified therapeutic communities are currently used for substance abuse treatment in correctional facilities of several U.S. states including Pennsylvaniamarker,[283492]Texasmarker,[283493] Delawaremarker,[283494] and New Yorkmarker.[283495] In New York Citymarker, a program for men is located in the Arthur Kill Correctional Facilitymarker on Staten Islandmarker and the women’s program is part of the Bayview Correctional Facilitymarker in Manhattanmarker.


The availability of the treatment on the National Health Service in the United Kingdommarker has recently been threatened because of changes in funding systems. However, development of 'mini' therapeutic communities, meeting for three or fewer days each week and supported out of hours by various forms of 'service user led informal networks of care' (for example telephone, texting and physical support), now offers a more resource and cost effective alternative to traditional inpatient therapeutic communities. The most recent exponent, the North Cumbria model, uses a dedicated out of hours website moderated by service users according to therapeutic community principles. This extends the community beyond the face to face 'therapeutic days'. The website guarantees a safe group-based response not always possible with other systems.

See also


  1. Reproduced in
  2. Stay'n Out: In-prison Treatment Programs for Men & Women

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