Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


Counseling Psychology, Ph.D.

First Advisor

Marion J. Merchant

Second Advisor

Donald Gillespie

Third Advisor

Thesba Johnston


In a pluralistic society alternative models for delivery of mental health services are needed to enhance theeffectiveness of professional therapy, to provide appropriate care for persons from various subcultures, and to increase job satisfaction and reduce the level of stress for therapists. This study proposes an alternative modelbased on the concept of a healing community.

Five alternative mental health programs qualifying as healing communities were observed to identify thetherapeutic dynamics in such settings. Communities observed were a self-contained village with mentally handicapped and normal adults, a church that functions as a community, a juvenile center, a self-help group, and a private day school for troubled children.

The communities were studied through qualitative, phenomenological methodology utilizing participant-observer techniques. Since there was no way to know what would be found in these communities prior to spending time in them, existing bodies of theory could be tied to the study only after the findings were completed.

In the healing communities observed, the major therapeutic dynamic was found to be warm, close, accepting interpersonal relationships in an egalitarian context in which healing interactions took place in social, peer-oriented as well as in formal counseling.

The resultant model integrated professional therapy with a support system and educational program. Thesupport system provides, for clients, practical assistance, peer counseling, and opportunities to growth through serving others. It also includes features to reduce stress and burnout for counselors.

The findings of this study were related to theories in social psychology, community psychology, and personality theory, particularly to the dynamic of love.

Subject Area

Counseling, Counselor and client

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