This quote from Martin Seligman’s work in positive psychology sums up the hope of the Fountain House treatment approach.
John Beard and the other Fountain House program designers were aware of the pathological aspects of serious mental illness but chose to focus on the healthy behaviors and personal strengths that people with this illness exhibited. They knew that the experience of mental illness could, to some extent, affect people's motivation, cognitive functioning and/or affective expression, such that some of their skills and abilities and feelings of self-confidence and self-efficacy could be negatively impacted. Life offers us positive and negative experiences, and while both have a formative effect on personality and behavior, positive experiences also have a curative effect. They believed that the impact of positive experiences, because of their rarity, would be greater on those most damaged.
Before coming to Fountain House, many members experienced the devastating effects of stigma and a life in which their illness was the primary definition of who they were as human beings. In addition to loss of focus on their abilities, for some, this erroneous self-perception created self-deprecation and low self-efficacy and self-esteem. The Fountain House community, with its focus on the strengths of members, serves as a de-stigmatization training ground. When this focus on strength is combined with our emphasis on empowerment and the need for members to help in the operation of the community, mutual respect and collegial relationships between all participants can develop. It’s this strength-based focus that facilitates the impressive treatment results and creates the positive emotional tone experienced by most participants and visitors.
Therefore the Fountain House approach seeks to treat mental illness 1) by focusing on the strengths of a person and presenting that person with many opportunities to have real and positive experiences, while 2) limiting the negative self-evaluations that result from the negative experiences more common in the general community, like stigma and paternalism. Many people with serious mental illness need the time and a place to have these curative successful experiences in order to move ahead in their lives with confidence. With a sufficient number and type of these positive experiences, the person or ego or self becomes stronger, and maybe the illness process becomes weaker, while the person’s positive life space and quality increases in dimension.
Education and Wellness Consultant, Fountain House