Side by Side: A Working Community Practice

Posted on August 30, 2011

Working side by side on the Education UnitWorking side by side on the Education UnitJulius Lanoil
Education and Wellness Consultant, Fountain House

In innumerable ways, staff and members work side by side to accomplish the programs, goals and objectives of the working community subculture – a subculture created to meet the needs of men and woman with serious mental illness.

On an average day, they prepare and serve a daily luncheon to over 300 staff and members. They gather data and publish research reports. They teach classes and tutor members in a variety of practical and academic subjects and support members attending academic institutions. They work in or provide coverage for, the employment program, which gives members the opportunity to try a real paid job in the dominant culture as a step in recovery. They actively participate in training people from around the world who have or are in the process of establishing their own working communities. They work together in reaching out to members who have been absent or who need of some kind of assistance. They publish a daily and weekly newspaper and run the switchboard. They participate in planning meetings and committees of all types.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg .

Why Work Side by Side?

This side-by-side practice is designed to accomplish three distinct objectives:

First, since the working community is a subculture, all of the participants - staff and members - must ascribe to its practices, goals, objectives and values, in order to claim subculture membership. Participation in the activities of the subculture legitimates membership in the working community for both staff and members. Subculture participants take on roles consistent with their skills, abilities and personal goals, their overall objectives being the growth, health, and continuity of the working community subculture, as well as their own personal growth.

The staff role as participants in the working community subculture is to manage, lead and develop relationships with members. There is a belief in the working community subculture that leadership, management and relationship building is best accomplished by active side by side joint participation in all of the activities of the working community subculture. This belief is consistent with most definitions of transformational leadership in the world of business and industry. Therefore, the second reason for the side-by-side practice is the belief that it is the best way for staff to accomplish their leadership role.  

The third reason for staff and members to work side by side in the working community is to give staff the opportunity to help members increase their belief in their ability to do things (self-efficacy). Increasing self-efficacy is an important treatment objective in the working community, not only because it changes personal self beliefs, but also because it affects cognition, motivation, affective states and the biology that underlies them.  An increase in self-efficacy builds motivation by changing the person’s expectation of failure. It helps correct self-evaluations based on self-stigma and lack of personal power. It heightens mood and lowers stress.

If a person has a strong mastery experience that increases their belief in their ability to change, that experience can have a positive generalizing effect on other risk-taking activities. When a person experiences a number of mastery experiences, a basic change in attitude can occur which redefines fearful activity into challenging activity.

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