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Taking Charge in Treatment

Woodworking at the Activities Program

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 having no control over their own treatment. People engage in psychotherapy and various aspects of community life on their own terms, and each person’s course is different. 

In addition to participating actively in their 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 offers tours to incoming patients and their families and runs a weekly “Riggs 101” meeting that helps newcomers acclimate. A third group addresses social problems that arise in the community, helping individuals who feel at odds with others find a place and a voice. This process raises for discussion dynamic aspects of the social environment that can deepen 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 are encouraged to speak directly and clearly about their experience of one another, so running the community provides the simultaneous opportunity 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 and Work Programs offer varied opportunities for different sorts of engagement within the intensive treatment environment. Patients become students in a variety of artistic and intellectual endeavors or workers in on-campus jobs.


Related Resources

Heather Churchill, PsyD, is the Associate Director of the Therapeutic Community

Heather Churchill, PsyD, Associate Director of the Therapeutic Community Program and Health and Wellness Coordinator, talks about the open treatment setting at the Austen Riggs Center.

A Patient's Perspective

The purpose of A Patient's Perspective is to portray a patient’s experience of treatment at the Austen Riggs Center. 

Eric M. Plakun, M.D., Associate Medical Director and Director of Admissions

Eric M. Plakun, MD, Associate Medical Director and Director of Biopsychosocial Advocacy (Director of Admissions during this interview) speaks about finding the voice of the prospective patient in the Admissions Consultation.


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