The Seven Sanctuary Commitments

For a complex organization to function you need just the right number of principles that guide short-term, everyday conduct as well as long-term strategy. Too many rules and a system becomes rigid, inflexible even paralyzed. Too few and it becomes purely individualistic and chaotic. Seven basic principles emerged out of the complex group processes of the last thirty years since Sanctuary began. These seven principles seemed to cover all of the territory.
The Sanctuary Model

The Seven Sanctuary Commitments represent the guiding principles for implementation of the Sanctuary Model – the basic structural elements of the Sanctuary “operating system” - and each support trauma-related goals for clients and for staff:

The Seven Commitments apply to everyone. Organizational leaders must be fully committed to the process of the Sanctuary Model for it to be effective – that means the Board of Directors, Managers and Staff. If the organizational leaders do not get on-board, it will not work. But even when leaders are on-board, it is a challenging process.

We use the word “commitment” in the way that organizational theorist Chris Argyis differentiated internal from external commitments [1]. External commitments are those that arise from contractual compliance. Basically, a person agrees to take a job and to fulfill the requirements of that job. It’s all that an organization usually gets when workers have little control or input into the decision making process. Under usual conditions, many people simply do the least they can do that will still afford them a paycheck. Internal commitment is something else altogether. When a worker in internally committed they are more likely to give the effort their best in terms of time, action, thought. Internal commitment depends on participation and true empowerment. This is a particularly important issue when the work is caretaking of very traumatized people and finding ways to help them to heal. Such work requires an emotional investment that is only present when people feel truly internally committed to the work they are doing. The reality of most work situations is that people at the bottom of the hierarchy have the least ability to influence decisions while at the same time, at least in any kind of residential setting, the highest level of internal commitment is needed from them if real change is to occur in the clients.
The Sanctuary Model

For organizational change to be effective, the Sanctuary Commitments must become internal commitments for each organizational member and the organization as a whole. And that is a constant struggle. We cannot just say we are “committed” and be certain that those commitments are fulfilled in action – human behavior is simply not that consistent.

None of these commitments can stand alone. If we are not equally committed to them all it is unlikely we will get much traction with any. Likewise, there is and always will be a tension between the real and the ideal. The Seven Commitments in their totality describe an ideal environment to promote health and human welfare. But each individual and every organization must contend with current constraints posed by reality.

Change Starts With A Vision


  1. Argyris, C., Empowerment: The Emperor's New Clothes. Harvard Business Review, 1998. 76(3): p. 98-105.