The Consortium for Therapeutic Communities (TCTC) hosted its first annual conference last month, 22-24 October 2012. Held at the beautiful and scenic Cumberland Lodge within Windsor Park, it was an opportunity for those interested and/or working in therapeutic communities (TCs) to come together. The conference itself has been running for several years, organised by the 40-year old Association of Therapeutic Communities (ATC). Significantly, this was the first year that the newly formed TCTC, which took over from the ATC earlier this year, hosted the event. This year’s conference theme was ‘Delivering Integrity’.*
I am relatively new to the TC world and this was my first time attending the conference. This was like no other conference I had attended. It was not just that each day started and ended with a community meeting (60+ individuals sitting in a circle, talking and reflecting as a group on the days’ events), the Greek dancing, the multiple cheerful toasts at dinner, or that at times the conference resembled a type of family reunion; it was more the atmosphere and purpose of this conference that set it apart.
On the first day, members of the TCTC (formerly members of the ATC and Charter House Group) had the opportunity to vote for the first TCTC board of directors. This was no small thing – it was not only saying goodbye to 40 years of the ATC, it was asking the question, what do we want next? Conference delegates had the task of discussing the future direction of TCs, what type of organisations/communities TCs should include (or perhaps more importantly, exclude), what the ‘mission’ should be, building a solid research evidence base, lobbying and advocating for community approaches within mental health / education / social care, and how the TCTC should go about all of this. There was much discussion and debate; however despite the variety of voices in the room, it was clear that the current direction of TCs has to change to become more proactive, rather than reactive, to changes in government policy and funding. For some, this sparked feelings of loss at having to let go of the old. For others, especially those of us who are new to the TC world, it felt rather exciting and optimistic.
Having ushered in TCTC and started the conversation as to the future of TCs, Day 2 of the conference moved on to explore ‘Promoting Integrity’. To that end, presentations included a keynote address from Professor Colwyn Trevarthen titled ‘The Social Brain: The Healing Power of Emotions’; a talk by Mark Johnson, ‘Reclaiming Integrity after a Destructive Childhood’; and Leonie Cowen, ‘Integrity in Commissioning: Ensuring Needs are Met’.
Day 3 of the Conference, which specifically looked at ‘Demonstrating Integrity’, included a presentation from the TCTC Research and Development Group, research paper presentations, life stories of personal change, and a presentation and video on the MAL-HER-JUST-ED project (for more info about this project, please see the Performance and Workshops section on the Therapeutic Living with Other People’s Children website).
At the final community meeting of the conference, the feeling in the room still held one of excitement and of hope for the future of TCs. Whether that can be translated and then sustained in terms of real life policy and funding challenges remains to be seen. However I am an optimist, and as an American my faith in the optimist approach was restored in last week’s US presidential elections.
Just like Obama managed to pull off a re-election win during trying times in American (and world) history, I would like to believe that TCs too will find a way through the funding cuts, the individualist and at times isolationist approach to mental health and social care. But, as with Obama, there is real work to be done as the challenges and oppositions we face will be with us for some time. And will likely get worse. So the question remains, despite all of this, what will 40 more years of TCs bring?
(*NB: Rex Haigh also wrote a blog post about the TCTC Conference: TCTC: born 22/10/12, Windsor, England. As a regular conference attendee for many years, he provides a much more in-depth perspective about all these changes and talks more fully about the presentations and speakers. I highly recommend it!)
ESRC PhD Student (Sociology)