Colleague Training: How We Do What We Do

Posted on April 7, 2011


Director of Education Alan Doyle with a colleague training groupDirector of Education Alan Doyle with a colleague training groupEvery year, member-staff teams of over twenty clubhouses from around the globe, as well as numerous others, come to Fountain House to learn how to start a working community or to strengthen an existing one. At Fountain House, training colleagues and the development of new working communities are indistinguishable. From the first seeds of hope and desire, training is the trunk from which the working communities based on principles pioneered at Fountain House grow and blossom.
Dissemination has always been considered an essential element in the mission of Fountain House. From its inception, Fountain House conceived of itself as a pioneer in the cause of promoting the recovery and community integration of people living with mental illness. Fountain House has never been restricted to its finite location New York City. What it achieved for the few in New York City, it believed was applicable for anyone, anywhere suffering from mental illness. It defined its mission not only in terms of direct services to its members but as a model for others to emulate. As stated in its Vision, Fountain House believes that: “People with mental illness everywhere achieve their potential and are respected as co-workers, neighbors and friends.”
John Beard (Fountain House Director 1955 – 1982) demonstrated his commitment to this broad vision. Early on, he teamed up with Columbia University to offer a training program for social workers who wanted to work with people living with mental illness. Like today, the program combined reflective discussions with hands-on practice—with classroom instruction at Columbia in the morning followed by afternoons spent working at Fountain House.
Fountain House did not choose to reproduce its vision through the franchise. Rather, it sought to spread its message through training so that the process was informed by the same values that contributed to its success:

  • by practicing mutual respect and understanding
  • by motivating through the inherent value of its message rather than artificial rewards or constraints
  • by seeking to inspire understanding through expert demonstration of practice rather than demands for rote reproduction
Training seeks to enlist others in this enterprise of liberating people from the prison of mental illness. It is why we call it “colleague training”: we treat others as equals on a path of mutual discovery and accomplishment. 
Since Fountain House represents a new way of relating to people suffering from mental illness―from fear and isolation to respect and mutuality― it represents a unique way of working that is rarely, if ever, taught in courses on psychiatric social work and mental health delivery systems. It fell to Fountain House, therefore, to devise its own method of schooling.  In the mid 1970s under a grant from the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), Fountain House developed the design for a three-week immersion training experience.
The success of this initial investment cannot be overstated: within twenty years of the introduction of the training program, the Fountain House model had been adopted in over 300 communities worldwide and the training design itself has since been replicated in over a dozen international training bases. Recently, this approach to training and development has resulted in founding new working communities in Argentina (the first in South America), India and Italy (other firsts), and soon France.
Today, training is broadly defined and has been expanded to a variety of means:

  • three to nine month academic internships for graduate students of social work
  • long term staff exchanges between Fountain House and other clubhouses
  • targeted one-week workshops on leadership,  young adults, the work-ordered day, and employment (fall 2011)
  • an annual symposium on current topics (last June, for example, Fountain House hosted an international meeting on research on community as a treatment in psychiatric recovery)
  • In seeking to further the goal of widespread dissemination and sustainable growth, Fountain House has announced its intention to sponsor a ten month Executive Fellowship for individuals planning to become Directors of working communities that imitate its approach beginning in September 2011.

In effect Fountain House has accomplished its original aspiration and become an international center for learning in a new way of living and working with people who have a mental illness.


Awards + Recognition

GuideStar GoldBBB Accredited Charity

Sign up for the Fountain House monthly newsletter