The primary goal of a therapeutic community is to foster personal growth. This is accomplished by changing an individual’s lifestyle through a community of concerned people working together to help themselves and each other.
The therapeutic community represents a highly structured environment with defined boundaries, both behavioural and ethical. It employs sanctions imposed by the community as well as earned advancement of status and privileges as part of the recovery and growth process. Being part of something greater than oneself is an especially important factor in facilitating positive growth.
People in a therapeutic community are members, as in any family setting, not patients, as in an institution. These members play a significant role in managing the therapeutic community and act as positive role models for others.
Members and staff act as facilitators, emphasizing personal responsibility for one’s own life and self-improvement. Staff support the members. Staff ensure that for personal privacy and dignity, each client is addressed by their preferred name. There is a sharing of meaningful labour so that there is a true investment in the community.
Peer pressure is often the catalyst that converts criticism and personal insight into positive change. High expectations and high commitment from both members and staff support this positive change. Insight into one’s problems is gained through group and individual interaction. Learning through experience, failing and succeeding, and experiencing the consequences is considered an important influence toward achieving lasting change.
The therapeutic community emphasizes the integration of an individual within this community. Progress is measured within the context of the community and against the community’s expectations. It is this community, along with the individual, that accomplishes the process of positive change in the member. This transition is taken as an important measure of readiness to move toward integration into the larger society.