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Soteria (Greek for deliverance) is the name given to a supportive recovery method (and the 'houses' where it takes place) for individuals in mental distress, traditionally focusing on those given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. It is based on a philosophy that a calm, friendly, engaging, trusting, supportive environment can effectively help people recover from acute mental distress and psychosis. Soteria houses are often seen as alternatives to a psychiatric hospital system perceived as authoritarian, hostile/violent and based on a routine use of psychiatric (particularly antipsychotic) drugs. Soteria houses are sometimes viewed as early intervention or crisis resolution services based on a supportive recovery model.
The term Soteria can also refer to sacrifices or festivals in the Hellenistic religion, and to some modern-day religious programmes.
Led by psychiatrist Loren Mosher, the original Soteria Project was near San Francisco in the United States. It was specifically for young people newly diagnosed with Schizophrenia. Staff members were encouraged to treat residents as peers and to share household chores. The program was designed to create a quiet, calming environment that respected and tolerated individual differences and autonomy. There was also an ethos of shared responsibility for the running of the house and playing a part in a mutually-supportive community, with the distinction between experts and non-experts downplayed (similar to therapeutic communities). Psychotropic medication, including anti-psychotics, were not completely rejected and were used in some circumstances. The Soteria project was admired by many professionals around the world who aspired to create mental health services based on a social, as opposed to a medical, model of mental health. It was also heavily criticised as irresponsible or ineffective. The US Soteria Project closed as a clinical program in 1983 due to lack of financial support, although it became the subject of research evaluation with competing claims and analyses. Second generation US successors to the original Soteria house (called Crossing Place and McAuliffe House) also closed around that time.
A first European near-replication of the original Soteria approach was implemented in 1984 in Berne, Switzerland, on a somewhat different conceptual basis. Three Soteria-like environments focused on longer term rehabilitation were created in Sweden (Perris, 1989).
Current Soteria work
Soteria or Soteria-like houses are currently run in Sweden, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Hungaria and some other countries.
Plans are underway in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Alaska and some other countries.
These services may be developed and headed by psychiatrists or other mental health professionals, and/or by people with personal experience of mental distress and recovery. They can thus be seen from the point of view of psychiatric rehabilitation or the Consumer/Survivor Movement.
Ciompi, L & Hoffmann, H (2004) Soteria Berne: an innovative milieu therapeutic approach to acute schizophrenia based on the concept of affect-logic. World Psychiatry 3(3): 140–146.
Website on Soteria started by Loren Mosher.
Soteria Foundation A Hungarian Soteria organization that provides multiple services to people with mental health problems and their families and communities.
UK Soteria Network planning Soteria houses in the UK.
Alaskan Soteria Network in the process of establishing a Soteria house.
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