History & Facts

The Austen Riggs Center and its staff have a long history as internationally respected leaders in the field of mental health treatment, and psychodynamic approaches in particular.

Austen Riggs Center: A Brief History

In 1907, New York internist Austen Fox Riggs, MD, was recuperating from tuberculosis at his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Influenced by the mental hygiene movement of the time, he developed a system of treatment based on talk therapy combined with a structured routine of daily activities balancing work, play, rest, and exercise. He founded the “Stockbridge Institute for the Psychoneuroses,” which became “The Austen Riggs Foundation” in 1919.
After Riggs died in 1940, Charles H. Kimberly, MD, succeeded him, serving until 1946. The next year, Robert P. Knight, MD, came to Riggs from the Menninger Clinic and became president of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychoanalytic Association. Austen Riggs became internationally recognized as a center of American ego psychology, with a staff of preeminent psychoanalysts, including Erik H. Erikson; David Rapaport, PhD; Margaret Brenman-Gibson, PhD; Merton Gill, MD; and Roy Schafer, PhD. Knight led the development of the Therapeutic Community Program to enhance the authority of patients, and Joan Erikson, an artist and dancer, established the Activities Program. After Knight’s death, Otto Will, MD, directed the Center, bringing his insights into early attachment problems and psychotic vulnerability to the treatment program.
Austen Riggs Center clinicians have a long history of making significant theoretical and clinical contributions to the mental health field. This tradition continues through the Erikson Institute for Education, Research, and Advocacy, which applies the learning from intensive work with patients to the problems of society at large.

Over decades, the clinical program at Riggs has increasingly focused on the context of the patient’s illness, and family treatment has become an important aspect of the work. Along with growth in the continuum of care, Riggs developed interdisciplinary clinical teams, so the same clinicians care for each patient throughout their stay at Riggs ensuring continuity that results in improved outcomes.

Facts About Riggs

  • The goal of treatment at Riggs is to help adults (18+) come to terms with emotional suffering and to facilitate growth in the individual’s capacity to work, play, and love
  • We average approximately 60 patients at any given time
  • We are completely open and voluntary; patient freedom and responsibility are expected and respected
  • Our treatment emphasizes interpersonal relationships, the meaning within symptoms, and the authority of the patient
  • Our multidisciplinary treatment teams consist of a psychotherapist, psychopharmacologist, social worker, nursing staff member, community staff member, and substance use counselor
  • Each patient has individual psychotherapy four times a week (with the exception of holidays, vacations, or illnesses) with a doctor on staff
  • Our clinical social workers conduct individual casework with each patient; we also offer family consultation and/or therapy
  • We offer a therapeutic community, groups, nursing services, and an innovative Activities Program led by artisans and teachers
  • Our minimum length of stay is six weeks; our average is five months, but one's actual length of stay is open-ended
  • We are located in historic Stockbridge, Massachusetts, three hours from New York City, two hours from Boston, and one hour from Albany, New York

Community Health Needs Assessment

In 2019, in response to emerging federal regulatory requirements, Riggs conducted a comprehensive Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) to identify and evaluate the key mental health needs of the community we serve. We sought input from community representatives, as well as secondary data, to develop a prioritized set of needs that the Center may be able to address.
Riggs then developed a comprehensive three-year implementation strategy to address these needs. We also welcome requests by organizations interested in partnering with us to address the needs described. For more information, please email info@austenriggs.net.

Accreditation

The Austen Riggs Center is accredited by the Joint Commission and licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH). The Center’s Continuing Medical Education Program is accredited by the Massachusetts Medical Society, according to the standards of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME). The Austen Riggs Center is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. The Austen Riggs Center, #1344, is approved to offer social work continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Approved Continuing Education (ACE) program.

The Joint Commission’s standards focus on organizational quality and the safety of patients and their treatment environment. Anyone believing that they have pertinent and valid concerns about such issues at the Austen Riggs Center may contact the Patient Safety Officer at the Center and the Division of Accreditation Operations, Office of Quality Monitoring, Joint Commission, One Renaissance Boulevard, Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181, or may email JCAHO at complaint@jcaho.org.

Celebrating 100 Years

Since its founding in 1919, Riggs has been a place where patients have worked with staff to find meaning and reclaim lives worth living. While much has changed, the centrality and importance of human relationships and of respecting the competent voice of patients have remained constant.
In 2019 we reflected on the past, looked toward the future, and celebrated this remarkable milestone with a dedicated exhibition and Centennial Conference.
For additional information, please call Librarian/Archivist Alison Lotto at 413.931.5249 or email library@austenriggs.net.

Contact Us for More

For more information on our residential treatment programs, or answers to any questions, please feel free to contact us.