Social Practice is a specialized form of psycho-social therapy utilizing intentional community to support people in their journeys of mental health recovery. It focuses on community as a platform for helping individuals learn new skills, hone their talents, build dignity, develop a sense of belonging, and make progress towards goals within and beyond the community.
Recovery looks different for everyone — it might be a process of again realizing agency over one’s life in a social environment, or one of the many outcomes of communities in social practice, such as a reduction in hospitalizations, regaining housing independence, or meaningful and gainful employment.
Intentional Communities are social environments designed to combat social isolation, especially for those living with mental illness who face barriers of stigma and discrimination. The intentionality of these communities offers safety and opportunities for mutual support among those engaged in social practice.
Adapted from Fountain House New York and practiced in clubhouse communities across the world, social practice uniquely blends the work of mental health professionals with peers together to foster an environment specific to recovery.
This model of practice has been shown empirically to address symptoms of mental illness not directly managed through medication alone, such as social isolation, social withdrawal, apathy, the absence of self-confidence and self-worth.
Elements of Social Practice
People living with a history of mental illness or living with a serious mental illness may often experience challenges such as trust issues, social injustices and marginalization, lack of self-worth, low motivation, stigmatization, social isolation and alienation. The five elements of social practice are practical ways to understand and address these common experiences:
Creating a social and/or physical environment where members participate in their own recovery. This approach allows people to identify their own needs and collaborate with others, thus addressing alienation and supporting recovery. Social design includes creating social structures as well as designing the physical space. A basis of the clubhouse philosophy, the environment drives engagement, interaction and is a place of refuge.
Assisting members in developing a variety of social relationships and community connections. Mental illness often leaves many individuals without social connections or close friends, and difficulties in navigating or maintaining different types of relationships. Factors like fear or distrust along with a limited social skillset could lead to continued isolation. The focus on relationship development directly combats isolation and loneliness by providing the opportunity to cultivate social networks. These can include transformative interpersonal connections such as friends and family, collegial, and societal relationships.
Using the social environment to reach individuals with mental illness. The most critical aspect of engagement is the choice and control of an individual on how they choose to interact in their personal surroundings and interpersonal relationships. In a clubhouse, these methods may initially include making lunch, or sharing a common interest over coffee - and other techniques to help people make connections to others and the social environment. Ongoing engagement is crucial to achieve results such as a sense of connectedness, opportunities to build skills, and improved self-esteem.
Ongoing observations of a person’s strengths, needs, and challenges within a social context that allow for the development of individualized interventions. This may involve a combination of selecting from evidence-based practices, the individual’s personal preferences, and the social practitioner’s mental health expertise. Continuous Assessment gives a holistic picture of the individual that is not dependent solely on disclosure, memory, or verbal articulation - all things that can be severely impaired by serious mental illness.
Creating access to places and spaces in society where mental health is not a priority of the environment (e.g., a job at a local business). Transitional environments assist people with reintegration - safely shift from a therapeutic environment to natural settings (non-therapeutic). Using transitional environments allows people to succeed in places they may have struggled with in the past. They offer opportunities to take risks, practice implementing new behaviors or attitudes, and build confidence.