April 3, 2013, NEW YORK, N.Y. – Phoenix House founder Dr. Mitchell S. Rosenthal spoke at CASAColumbia’s quarterly Lunch-N-Learn series on April 2, where he discussed the therapeutic community and its changing presence on the current behavioral health care scene. Following his remarks, Dr. Rosenthal facilitated a lively discussion about the future of the therapeutic community in addiction treatment, management and recovery.
Rosenthal’s first exposure to a therapeutic community was at Synanon in San Francisco, where he spent time observing and studying a community of some 200 recovering substance users living and working together. He took what he learned from that experience and applied it to the naval hospital where he was working in Oakland, CA.
Rosenthal described the transformation of the naval hospital from a ward of men in pajamas watching TV all day to a community where men were dressed in uniform and everyone had a specific job to do. In addition to the work, the men participated in various discussion groups where they were able to learn more about themselves and their addiction.
“They learned to behave responsibly by having to behave responsibly and they came to grips with the fear, anger or shame at the root of their addiction,” he said. “And what I learned was how the therapeutic community worked, that the community itself did the healing.”
In 1967, Rosenthal founded Phoenix House, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization operating in ten states with more than 123 programs, based upon his practices at the naval hospital.
In recent years, more and more individuals in need of treatment and recovery services have been channeled into outpatient treatment facilities rather than residential therapeutic communities. According to Rosenthal, in 1975, 64 percent of clients in treatment for addiction were in residential programs, but by 2006 only 8 percent were.
“There are any number of reasons for the decline of the therapeutic community,” Rosenthal said. “Chief among these is the limited need for a treatment regimen as intense, as lengthy, and as comprehensive. The therapeutic community was created for drug abusers who had been living profoundly disordered lives, had few social assets, and a wide range of deficits.”
Rosenthal attributes the limited visibility of therapeutic communities in addiction treatment to the demand by government funding agencies and private insurers for low-cost, short-term, interventions and for clinicians more highly credentialed than the program-trained and state credentialed ex-addict counselors who staffed most therapeutic communities.
The lecture, was attended by CASAColumbia staff as well as a number of addiction professionals including individuals from The Stay'n Out Programs-NYTC, Inc., The Fix and Daytop.
CASAColumbia’s next Lunch-N-Learn will take place in July.