McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
therapeutic communities, ethnography, farm, existential-humanistic psychology
Therapeutic communities are communal spaces where individuals live for an extended period in hopes of recovering from personal crises, or while coping with severe mental illness. They provide a humanistic alternative to inpatient hospitalization. Although they are seldom studied, even less is known about farm-based therapeutic communities in the United States, where communal work is viewed as central to recovery. This dissertation examines the experience of living and working at the Haven. Originally conceived as a farm-based community where suffering individuals could experience reprieve from the demands of the “working world,” and heal by living in community, recent changes in the mental health field require the Haven to provide more clinical services to residents to remain viable. This transition has evoked a collective identity crisis for the Haven.
After four months of ethnographic participant observation and 50 interviews with current and former residents and staff, it became evident that the Haven’s work program, formerly its primary treatment modality, was no longer sufficient to meet residents’ needs. In fact, residents overwhelmingly requested more clinical services. However, the Haven has embraced a medical model approach to the provision of clinical services, which is at odds with its humanistic history and aims. This fact is likely the cause of many staff members’ wariness regarding the growing clinical programming. This approach reduces residents’ agency, autonomy, and implicitly reduces the role of non-clinical staff as well. This dissertation explores the evolution of these changes and provides suggestions for how to reorient the Haven towards a restoration of community, revitalization of the work program, and an existential-humanistic orientation consistent with the values of the Haven’s original vision.
Lawson, M. (2020). The Haven: A Clinical Ethnography of a Farm-Based Therapeutic Community (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1939