Jenelle Clarke: Response to Nick Manning’s post, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”

(For reference, please see Prof. Nick Manning’s post,  “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.)

Nick Manning’s post regarding the ‘routinisation of charisma’ within therapeutic communities is a timely reflection as the ATC prepares to celebrate 40 years next week.   With a scheduled round table discussion about the history of TCs, the issues he raises here will most likely be in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Therapeutic communities have certainly gone through many transformations over the years.  Their popularity depends on who you ask; even more so for their relevance as a therapeutic intervention (current or historical!).   Some people will even express surprise when they hear that my doctoral study is exploring social processes within TCs – they thought TCs had long since faded away.

With a patchy research history (though better in recent years) and a habit of opposing dominant therapeutic interventions, Nick rightly says that TCs are today a ‘minor strategy in those areas where they are not a threat’.  As a social movement, TCs have struggled to maintain their edge and pushing ‘through a ‘paradigm shift’ in the field’ has yet to occur.

Understanding the rise and fall of social movements is certainly pertinent.  As an American, I need only look to across the pond for a recent example of charisma that has failed to change the world as so many of us (naively?) hoped.  Though instead of 40 years, it took less than 4 for the ‘revolutionary zeal’  of Obama’s ‘Yes We Can!’ to morph into several reasons why ‘No We Can’t’.  But perhaps even more important to understanding why things like this happen, is asking what happens next?

The question facing TCs as it celebrates 40 years of the ATC is crucial.  Ultimately as we reflect, we will all be wondering the same thing: what will the next 40 years bring?  Will TCs continue to be on the ‘fringe’ within mental health, or is there a viable alternative? Are we doomed to repeat endless cycles of ‘charisma and routinisation’, or can we produce something that genuinely stands the test of time?

Only time will truly tell.  But just as President Obama will be getting my vote again this November, I certainly hope that TCs will contribute significant research and ideas about therapeutic practice to the field over many years to come.   

Posted by:
Jenelle Clarke
ESRC PhD Student (Sociology)
University of Nottingham


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