Taking charge of one’s life in a new way requires rediscovering one’s identity beyond a psychiatric diagnosis. This process often starts with taking charge of the treatment itself.
Riggs patients are competent people who come here seriously intending to improve their lives through self-examination in collaboration with others. Here an individual’s treatment plan is constructed collaboratively, rather than being prescribed and enforced by a professional. Actively working with staff to build and maintain a therapeutic alliance, patients are participants, not passive recipients of care. This is a strikingly different experience for many people whose previous hospitalizations included loss of control over their own treatment. People engage in psychotherapy and in various aspects of community life on their own terms, and each person’s course is different.
In addition to participating actively in their own treatment, Riggs patients collaborate with the staff in running many aspects of the hospital itself, joining committees that focus on areas such as the physical plant, the fitness program and dietary services. A patient government system offers a variety of roles through which individuals contribute to the community according to their interests and talents. An elected patient leader chairs the daily community meeting. One group manages a budget that funds social, cultural and recreational events on and off campus. Another group offers tours to incoming patients and their families and runs a weekly “Riggs 101” meeting that helps newcomers acclimate. Another addresses social problems that arise in the community, helping individuals who feel at odds with others to find a place and a voice, and raising for discussion dynamic aspects of the social environment that might better support everyone’s work. Patients organize their library, throw birthday parties for one another and offer workshops and performances for fellow patients and staff. Throughout the community program, patients and staff strive to speak directly and clearly about their experience of one another, so that running the community provides simultaneous opportunities for developing interpersonal skills and understanding one’s life in social situations.
Intellectual and Creative Opportunities
When Joan Erikson started the Activities Program in the 1950s, she said, “We wanted to provide many situations where people could try to let go, try something else, fail comfortably, succeed without being labeled or limited by success.”
We offer individuals opportunities to build on their strengths and creative capacities. The Activities Program and the Work Program offer different ways for patients to get a break from the intensive treatment environment by becoming students in a variety of artistic and intellectual endeavors or workers in on-campus jobs.