Now, if we are to think of the mental health system as a living system, what might be the implications of that? Since a living system is interactively connected to every other component of the system, you cannot impact one part of the human service system without impacting all of its components. If therapeutic environments are alive, then we must consider the functioning of all the levels of the organization and how each level interacts with the other, consciously and unconsciously. Every organization has a history and like the histories of the individual children and staff, and the systems they are embedded within, the organizational past continues to play a significant role in determining present behavior. And in every moment, present behavior is playing a role in determining the future.
As a living system, social service organizations do best when they self-regulate and when they have the time and energy available to keep information flowing throughout the system because the best kind of regulation comes through feedback processes that are constantly adjusting and readjusting over time and responding to changing circumstances. Living systems are interconnected and constantly communicating information vital to the well-being of the system as a whole and its component parts. This requires universal participation of everyone within a system and therefore social service systems, including the mental health system, must have the means and methods that promote universal participation, including processes that determine who needs to pay attention to what, when.
The human service delivery system should be the birthplace of emergent solutions to significant individual and social problems because its members have specialized knowledge in the area of human cognition, emotions, behavior, moral development, spiritual development, mind-body connections, and group dynamics. A living system evolves, regenerates, and self-organizes to adapt to changing circumstances. Living systems learn and use that new information to alter present and future behavior. A living system is constantly balancing and rebalancing to maintain homeostasis. The mental health system, like all living things, must be fed and replenished in order to perform its function for the society.
What would a “parallel process of recovery” look like for organizations, because that’s what we mean when we think of “system transformation”. Transformation means “A change in an organism which alters its general character and mode of life” and as one organizational theorist has pointed out, “if you want deeply rooted change, you need to apply deeply rooted methods”. That’s what the Sanctuary Model is: a deeply rooted method. In the next chapters we will describe what we mean.
The ideas about groupmind were on the right track, despite the controversy surrounding the concepts, and that entities emerge out of collective individual existences that cannot be explained solely by an analysis of individuals within the group. The study of normal groups and group dynamics provides a great deal of knowledge that is relevant to organizations. But to absorb that knowledge, we need a different way of thinking about human service delivery organizations and systems, a new mental model that approaches those systems as living organisms, not mechanical devices.
When people come together and accept the challenge of creating or changing organizations that reflect the Sanctuary Commitments, they are the latest in a long line of creative and visionary people to do so, just using other words in other times. As we hope this brief historical journey has shown, the concepts that underpin the Sanctuary Model are – for the most part – not new, but based on solid organizational and ethical principles that have been guiding human groups for centuries but that keep getting lost, forgotten, and displaced. The Sanctuary Model is a method of changing organizational culture within human service systems in order to promote the development of learning organizations that require 1) the presence of tension; 2) the presence of systems thinking; 3) a culture which facilitates learning what one of the prime movers of the Therapeutic Community Movement, Maxwell Jones called a “living-learning environment”.
What is new about the Sanctuary Model is the integration into established wisdom of scientific discoveries that have been made about the human brain, human development, and the impact of traumatic experience. We cannot understand what happens to organizations today without understanding the impact of stress and trauma on groups.
Excerpt from Bloom, S. L. and Farragher, B. (2010) Destroying Sanctuary: The Crisis in Human Service Delivery Systems. New York: Oxford University Press.