The Role of Social Worker Services within a Therapeutic Community

  • Richard Pruss


The original concept of a therapeutic community for drug addicts, as exemplified by Synanon, did not use professionals as providers of clinical treatment. Among the probable reasons for this exclusion are the following:
  1. 1.

    Modeling was an important therapeutic tool, and ex-addicts were considered more effective models for clients than people without drug abuse histories. The high-level position of the ex-addict within the organization provided evidence of the rewards for conforming to therapeutic community regulations.

  2. 2.

    The therapeutic community was a supportive and cohesive “family” environment, as opposed to the institutional environment with rigid staff — patient separation that typified the relationship of professionals to their clients.

  3. 3.

    The therapeutic community required adherence to community norms with peer pressure used to control deviance. Clients not conforming were subject to threats of banishment, and strongly worded accusations to induce guilt and shame. This was radically different from the approach of most professionals who would be expected to be critical of these methods.

  4. 4.

    The clinical positions provided a career opportunity in a protected environment for many clients who had poor job prospects partially due to discrimination against addicts, or who could not succeed away from the therapeutic community. In addition, promotion of addicts into clinical positions may have had therapeutic value in keeping them drugfree. In order to fulfill their responsibility to rehabilitate clients, they had to remain abstinent.

  5. 5.

    Finally, professional treatment methods, whether in an institution or in private therapy, had failed with the heroin addict.



Family Therapy Clinical Staff Therapeutic Community Heroin Addict Clinical Position 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Pruss
    • 1
  1. 1.Samaritan Halfway SocietyUSA

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