Therapeutic Communities in Britain
The central idea of therapeutic communities is that by living together in organised and caring environments, troubled individuals can find productive ways forward.
Quakers have been instrumental in establishing and supporting several such communities.
Therapeutic Communities work on clear principles that provide a safe environment for the exploration of difficult issues.
- Communalism: the idea that living and working together creates a healing process;
- Permissiveness: exploring the factors that promote different behaviours whilst containing any destructive behaviour that arises: going beyond control and punishment to understand motivation and self discipline.
- Reality Confrontation: creating awareness and understanding of the effects and consequences of destructive behaviour. Deep rooted and painful issues are confronted through communal forums.
Democracy: providing insights into how to exercise power appropriately, contributing to a consensus, and abiding by decisions made in this way.
In the 20th century, Quakers, like many others, developed therapeutic community thinking and practice in response to the many challenges and traumas they saw around them.
David Wills (1903-81) was a key figure in this movement. He was a psychiatric social worker, and became so concerned with the treatment of young offenders that in 1935 he wrote an article about it in the Friend. This led to him becoming 'Chief' of a pioneering Quaker Camp, at Hawkspur, in Essex, which lasted until war broke out in 1939. By that time, many children were being evacuated from their homes in cities and sent to live with families in safer places. Scottish Friends became aware of some boys who were too disturbed to be able to stay with their host families, and who could not return to their homes. In 1940 Barns House, near Peebles, was opened as a therapeutic community for these children, which they asked David Wills to run. After the war, he ran another community, at Bodenham school, in Herefordshire.
In the 1960s, Glebe House (The Friends Therapeutic Community Trust) was established in Cambridgeshire, as a Quaker Trust. It is a therapeutic community for adolescent boys who are a risk (emotionally and physically) to themselves, to children, to their families and to the wider community.