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October 22, 2020


"SPOTLIGHT ON....FRASER HOUSE"

A series of programmes about Fraser House, a total therapeutic community in 1960s Australia, featuring David Cruise and Dr. Les Spencer, a behavioural scientist and sociologist in Melbourne, Australia.

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Programme Three: Patients as Skilled Therapists"

David Cruise [DC] I am David Cruise in Melbourne Australia for Radio TC International. 'Fraser House' is a series of Programs about Dr Neville Yeomans – the founder of the Fraser House psychiatric Therapeutic Community in Australia. This extraordinary unit ran from 1959 to 1968 and was responsible for introducing many psychosocial innovations into Australian society. The series introduces doctoral research into Neville Yeomans' work by Les Spencer a behavioural scientist and sociologist. I have Les with me in the studio.

Les, you spoke last time of patients becoming skilled therapists in their own right.


Les Spencer [LS] Yes. After a time by, common agreement of all at Fraser House, the people most skilled in therapy connected with Fraser House were the patients themselves, because they were immersed in and embodying the process more than others. It was a pervasive aspect of everyday life for them. Community was the therapy, and it took me quite a while to actually recognise this – I kept on saying, you know, 'what processes did you use for change? And then, I was a slow learner, and it suddenly dawned on me, community was the therapy. Everyday life was the process - well, a fundamental one.

The next most skilled people incidently, turned out to be the cleaners, again by common agreement, for the same reason, they were always around and immersed in what was going on and they also attended big group.

Neville said that the wisdom was in the group, and this was again a fundamental concept - the wisdom was in the group, and this group wisdom was way ahead of any individual professional, even Neville himself.

I mentioned last program that a group of patients would interview potential patients upon arrival and carry out period assessments during their stay. I have had access to closed records and read some of these reports by patients - and my view is that a very very experienced and qualified psychiatrist could not have done any better, and subtle readings and hunches in the first assessment were demonstrated to be very insightful as complexities of dysfunction were unraveled during their stay and reported in their later assessments. Of course the members of the assessment committee would be audience to others change-work in the groups and in everyday life exchange. They were very, very good at assessing!


DC This is an example of the expression 'it takes one to know one!'


LS Exactly, and Fraser House worked at so many levels simultaneously – this is what Margaret Mead was so excited about - there was always this pool of very experienced patients that were passing through the system. This experience was continually being called upon in big and small groups as well as everyday life in the Fraser House Community. Every patient was encouraged to play an active role in supporting other patients and outpatients. Every new patient would be assigned buddies, who were fellow patients, who would provide an in-house support team during their settling in period.

As part of the committee process the patients set up a canteen that they owned and operated – that was mentioned in the first program – how they had every aspect of Fraser House administration ultimately moved across to committees. And in this canteen the basis of therapy was work itself, and they provided items for the visitors to buy for the suppers, and from the profits of this canteen the patients bought and operated a little red bus.

As an example of the patient's therapy skills, with this little red bus, the patients provided a 24 hour suicide telephone crisis service - and groups of five patients would go out - often for example to the Gap on the Sydney South Head, and perhaps two or three o'clock in the morning – and this is where Sydney-siders would go and still do to commit suicide – and these groups in the little red bus were very successful in getting the suicidals off the cliff and back to Fraser House.

And with this same little bus patients started the domiciliary care service where patients would visit ex-patients in their own homes


DC Perhaps you could talk about the Small Groups.


LS Yes, I mentioned small groups where members were allocated by locality, and this was a major process that was used to increase the numbers in their family friendship networks. Other small groups were divided up on the basis of various sociological categories – and examples are:

By Age By Sex Marital Status Socio-economic Status Kinship Age and Sex

This meant that the whole community was continually being split up in different ways to ensure that different aspects of their experience were being explored.


DC Where did Fraser House residents come from


LS Neville was very specific about the mix of residents. He wanted to maintain what he called a 'balanced transitional community'.

He set Fraser House up so there was gender balance among residents. Neville actually took them from the back wards of lunatic asylums – and, that was half - and half of them were from prisons. Neville told me that he wanted to have a mix of the mad and the bad within the place. And in a later program I will talk more about that; Neville was very specific about the mix of residents. He wanted to maintain what he called a 'balanced, transitional community'. He set Fraser House so there was gender balance among residents, and Neville sought and obtained balance within the Unit population on all of the following characteristics:

      • inpatients and outpatients
      • mad and bad
      • males and females
      • married and single
      • young and old
      • under-active and over-active
      • under-anxious and over-anxious
      • under-controlled and over-controlled


DC You were speaking to me before this program about sleeping arrangements.


LS Yes. It was an 80 bed unit. In the four bed dorms two under-active, over-controlleds were put in with two overactive, under-controlleds - that is, with their exact opposites. The idea was that they would have a normative social pressure on the four of them towards a more normal centre; that is, overcontrols becoming less controlled, and under controlleds become more controlled. Similarly, over-actives would become less active, and vice versa. This was a self-organizing process as they went about everyday life during their time in the dorms – similar to the way Neville's father looked for self organizing processes in nature - like how to use gravity to get water to where you want it – it self organizes, and its free energy.


DC Neville wanted to tap into free energy in the Fraser House context.


LS Yes. I will give some examples of using free energy in some case studies I have prepared for later programs.


DC Perhaps we could leave it there today. What do you have for the next program Les.



LS I will share more about what made Fraser House work well, talk about ethical issues and explore Neville's way of working in groups.

This will give listeners a background for appreciating the case studies in later programs.



DC Well thanks again, Les. That's been most interesting and I look forward to our next program


LS Thanks David.


DC Listeners you can find Les' Cultural Keyline thesis on Fraser House on Internet at www.laceweb.org.au

I am David Cruise for Radio TC International and my Guest today has been Les Spencer from Melbourne, Australia



Programme Four: Ethics and Group Process

Read the Script

Essential reading:

Dr. Les Spencer (2005), CULTURAL KEYLINE - The Life Work of Dr. Neville Yeomans, PhD. Thesis, School of Social Work and Community Welfare, James Cook University (Australia)

Email comments and questions to Les Spencer, for incorporation into later programmes: lspencre@alphalink.com.au


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