A Therapeutic Community (TC) is a group based, highly structured and powerful treatment approach to addiction recovery. The have been around since the 1950s and go much further than simply helping individuals to stop using drugs and alcohol. They provide a supportive environment where individuals learn why they used and help them develop all the tools necessary to stay sober. Within TCs, participants change their destructive attitudes, behaviours, values, and life-styles.
Lasting recovery takes time. Learning a totally new life-style cannot be achieved in a short-term program. To expect people with a history of addiction to turn their lives around and maintain sobriety after only a few months of treatment is simply unrealistic. This is why treatment at TC lasts between 2 to 5 years.
The motto of a TC is “each one, teach one”. This implies that individuals assume responsibility not only for their own recovery, but also for the recovery of their peers. They recognize that the recovery of each member is related to the recovery of all and conduct themselves accordingly – this, in turn, reinforces their own recovery. Personal growth and proper living are achieved by peers serving as role models, providing support through interaction, and confronting each other in group sessions. By doing all of this, participants come to understand and resolve the cause of their addiction and also gain the tools they need to stay sober. This approach is so successful that there is no need for psychiatrist or psychologists.
Program participants are expected to observe the behaviours and attitudes of their peers and take action to promote change. The more senior participants teach by example and provide instruction and leadership. They act as big brothers and sisters to the more junior members. They show them how to work, encourage them, reach out to them, “pull them in”, monitor them, and correct their negative behaviours.
In a TC, program participants are considered equals in their struggle to change their lives. While they have no formal authority over their peers, they have considerable informal authority in their community management roles. They are taught to become leaders by handling increasing amounts of responsibility in their job functions and general supervision. As junior members are primarily in learning roles, less demand is placed on them to lead. As they progress through the stages of the program, their attitudes and behaviours change while their responsibility, accountability, and self-worth increase.
All program participants are expected to provide assistance to others in areas where they have special expertise. Those with skills and experience provide seminars and workshops and those with academic proficiency provide tutoring in subjects such as language, computers, mathematics, reading, and writing.
While no two TC are alike, the well-functioning ones provide their program participants with all the tools they will need to handle life’s many challenges. They achieve this, in part, through extensive personal development and career preparation – both of which are crucial for a rewarding life of sobriety.