Therapeutic Communities (TCs) are structured, psychologically informed environments – they are places where the social relationships, structure of the day and different activities together are all deliberately designed to help people’s health and well-being.
Functions of a TC
In some TCs, people with various longstanding emotional problems spend time and engage in therapy together in an organised and structured way, without drugs or self-damaging behaviour, so that a new life in outside society is made possible. There are others living in TCs who cannot live normally in society (for reasons such as severe learning disability or persistent psychosis) and engage in an interdependent form of group living which helps them to have a more fulfilling life and achieve their maximum social potential. The workings of the therapeutic communities themselves are the main method, and through these social and group processes, change and growth are promoted.
In the UK, therapeutic communities have long existed:
One way in which TCs define themselves is not by specific methods or programme elements, but the common shared values which underline all aspects of the work. The ‘Community of Communities’ project now works with a set of ten ‘core values’ upon which the ‘core standards’ (for measuring to what extent a programme is a TC) are based. For a TC to be accredited through this process it therefore needs to demonstrate that its work is based on the core values.
The terminology is often confusing – and there is considerable overlap between therapeutic communities and various other names, such as Therapeutic Environments, Enabling Environments, Psychologically Informed Planned Environments, Intentional Communities, Intentional Environments – and probably others. These have some, but not all the required elements of a therapeutic community, see a list of definitions. A detailed understanding of how therapeutic communities operate, and what they need to do to become accredited as TCs, can be obtained by looking at the standards set by the ‘Community of Communities’ project.
There are many misconceptions about therapeutic communities, perhaps because of the long and complex history they have had.