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Hope Through Engagement: A Unique Therapeutic Community

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Community meetingIt may be hard to imagine patients having a say in the way a hospital is run – not just an opinion about the care they received, but a real partnership with staff in engaging a range of clinical and administrative issues.  Yet this is just what happens at Riggs, where the core of the clinical program is the recognition that patients come with significant strengths as well as difficulties, and that the exercise of these strengths is as important for the patient’s prognosis as it is for the community’s daily life.  

One of the major goals of the therapeutic community program is to facilitate the partnership between patients and staff.  Therapeutic Community Director Donna Elmendorf, PhD states, “Psychiatric illness can sometimes seem to overshadow an individual’s intellect, creativity and competence.  One of our goals is to engage these strengths in the service of the development of the individual and the community.  When we listen to the patients’ perspectives, community life almost always changes for the better…When we bring patients and staff together around a problem, the solutions are typically innovative, leading to greater engagement and a greater sense of ownership.  This kind of process makes it clear that we are in it together.”

The majority of patients with treatment resistant disorders who find their way to Riggs have been hospitalized many times for acute, short-term psychiatric care with an emphasis on managing symptoms.  In these acute settings, there is little opportunity for patients to develop relationships with one another or the staff in the service of their treatment.  Yet problematic relationships are at the heart of these patients’ difficulties.  In other settings, group work is typically focused on crisis intervention and strategies for decreasing problematic behavior.  At Riggs, many groups focus on translating the meaning embedded in symptoms.  Patient learn what gets in the way of developing meaningful relationships and supportive connections with others.

Group meetingIn addition to intensive psychotherapy, family work and psychopharmacology, Riggs offers over 30 different group meetings a week in the therapeutic community, providing an extended opportunity to focus on the quality of relationships and the way people communicate with each other.  The system of patient government also allows patients to have an impact on the nature of their community through elected leadership roles.

 

Excerpted from the Annual Report: Hope Through Engagement

Content of Interest
Therapeutic Community

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