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October 30, 2020



'Evolving a Dispersed Urban Wellbeing Community'

I'm Craig Fees for Radio TC International and this is another program in a series about the lifework of Dr Neville Yeomans, the founder of Therapeutic Community in Australia See P7S1

This program has been prepared from a paper by Dr Les Spencer, a behavioural scientist and clinical sociologist in Melbourne, Australia.

The program is about psychiatrist Dr Neville Yeomans extending the therapeutic community model in civil society. This model is discussed in some detail so that resonant people may desire to replicate or adapt this model in their own areas.

The program is called:

Evolving a Dispersed Urban Wellbeing Community

Dr Neville Yeomans pioneered Therapeutic Community in Australia as the founding director of Fraser House a unit he opened in September 1959 on the grounds of North Ryde Psychiatric Hospital in Sydney, Australia.

Upon leaving Fraser House in 1968 Neville wrote the job description for a new role and section in the New South Wales state health department namely, Director of Community Mental Health. Neville then applied for and became the first Director of Community Mental Health in Australia - within the New South Wales Health Department. How Neville began applying Fraser House processes within that job role will be the subject of a later program.

After three years in the Community Mental Health role Neville went to live in the tropical North East Coast of Queensland to explore the application of his ideas in civil society away from centres of power.

Neville Yeomans used the evolving of functional social networking in Fraser House as a primary process for moving dysfunctional people towards functional living. Neville began replicating this process in linking with Aboriginal and Islander women in Northern Australia and evolving among them what Neville called 'networks of natural nurturers'.

Neville had been engaged in this networking between 1972 and 1984 while living along the North East Coast of Queensland. These networks were evolving in Mackay, Townsville, Cairns, and on the Atherton Tablelands above Cairns.

Neville had bought houses in North Queensland coastal areas - Mackay, Townville, and Cairns, and also one in the Atherton Tablelands at Yungaburra. He progressively set up the coastal houses as therapeutic communities. These houses typically had eight people in residence. The majority of the residents were Aboriginal women. Outsiders would attend regular groups led by Neville at these houses. After a time, Neville would move on and leave these houses as self-organising entities. Neville had his Yungaburra house as a base for networking through the Atherton Tablelands.

Dr Paul Wilson, one of Australia's best known criminologists and acting head of the Australian Institute of Criminology in Canberra between 1986 and 1991 devotes Chapter Six of his book, 'A life of Crime' to his personal healing experiences living within Neville's small Therapeutic Community house in Mackay. In 1988, Neville Yeomans moved strategically back to Sydney living in his house at Bondi Junction and sustaining himself as a psychiatrist in private practice. He was also extremely active in voluntary work, continuing to extend Fraser House outreach in civil society.

Neville was at the time in regular contact with an informal group of 20 local people living around Sydney who were interested in personal and community wellbeing.

Neville had been instrumental in linking many of these people together. This group would meet each other at workshops on varying healing modalities led by group members. He would also meet them informally at social gatherings.

Members of this group were generally aware that Neville had done seminal pioneering work in the 1960s in evolving therapeutic community practice in Fraser House. However members of this group typically knew little about the specifics of how Fraser House worked. Neville was not one to talk at length about Fraser House. He may give some information to someone, if in his opinion that person usefully needed to know. Neville would occasionally mention micro-bits of his way during workshops.

Little was known at the time by this group of 20 about how Neville Yeomans used social networking at Fraser House as a primary process for transition towards functional living, and how Neville had been replicating this process in Northern Australia.

Les Spencer had linked into this group in 1984 through Chris Collingwood, a psychotherapist trainer based in Sydney. Les first met Neville Yeomans in 1985 at a psychotherapy workshop in Balmain, Sydney.

Neville had just returned from a workshop on using sensory submodalities in psychotherapy ran by Steve and Connirae Andreas in the United States. Neville Yeomans led the Balmain workshop assisted by Chris Collingwood, and another associate.

After Balmain, a number of other psychotherapy workshops were held above a shop at 240 Broadway in Sydney Central where Chris Collingwood was living. These workshops were on a range of healing modalities as well as human relations.

For some of the experiential work, the group would move across the road to parklands opposite the Broadway shop. Passers-bye might see for example, a person on a raised platform about to do a trust fall backwards into the arms of a waiting group, with a safety person holding the person till all involved were mentally present, alert and ready. The group engaged ecologically in all manner of human relations and wellbeing experiences.

Now to the next part of this historical journey into Neville's life work – it is early in 1988 and Les is talking with Neville in his house in Bondi Junction. They are discussing Neville's networking in Northern Queensland when Neville drops into deep reflection. Then Neville says words to the effect:

I don't need to do this! Done it all before. I already know how to do it. It's a lot of work; however you Sydney people are ready to experience this.

Neville then suggests that Les send out word to the others in the core group of 20 people. Neville suggested that Les use tentative language – the language of possibilities - using lots of tentative words like 'perhaps' and maybe' and may', as well as using passive sentences and generalisations.

The word went out:

Ideas are evolving for a gathering at Neville's place. Perhaps it may be called 'Healing Sunday.'

If there is energy for it, we may together start a dispersed wellbeing community in Sydney. 

The keypoint for this community may be what Neville has termed 'Healing Sunday'.

Healing Sunday may have four experiential sessions lasting one hour during the day - where attendees may experience a range of healing ways from members of the core group and possible others.

This gathering may be held on the first Sunday of each month at Neville's place in Bondi Junction on the South side of Sydney Harbour.

If it happens, then this Healing Sunday may be free of charge.

People may bring food to share and perhaps leave a small donation for basics like herbal teas, milk and the like.

They may arrive between 8:00 and 8:15 AM for a start at Nine AM sharp.

If Healing Sunday does happen, Neville envisages adherence to the following timetable:

 8:00 –   8:15 		In the morning – to arrive with food and prepared

platters of food for a midday feast

 8:15 –   9:00   	Would be for networking, drinks and snacks 
 9:00 – 10:00		The first session

10:00 – 10:10 For a toilet and stretch break 10:10 – 11:10 The second session 11:10 – 11:30 Drinks and snack break and networking 11:30 – 12:30 The third session

12:30 –  2:00		The Midday Feast and networking
 2:00 –   3:00		The fourth session	

All of this was consistent with Neville's way. Neville was always setting up contexts he described as, 'filled with possibilities'. If one in a hundred of these 'possibilities' generated one or two things of substance, it was for Neville, 'a miracle'.

Neville talked up possibilities in vague terms. 'Healing Sundays may happen. For a time Healing Sunday was a potently articulated virtual reality.

This tentative language was consistent with Neville's slogans:

Firstly, nothing happens unless the locals want it to happen And secondly, if it happens it is because the locals do it.

Healing Sundays did start. The locals wanted it and did make it happen and that timetable was always adhered to. An aspect of Neville's particular kind of leadership was to accurately sense what the locals would want to do.

When the day for the first Healing Sunday was approaching, such was Neville's rapport and respect within this core group, all of the members of the core group said they were coming and would make it happen.

The first Healing Sunday was a great success and Healing Sunday ended up being held for eighteen consecutive months. Les Spencer attended all of them.

Generally the core group members were present. Other attendees came regularly. Some came every two or three months. Over the 18 months around 220 people attended a few or more times.

Of these, around 180 people evolved into a social networking group that regularly met each other in pairs and in small and large groups outside of Healing Sundays. The 180 people became a dispersed wellbeing community.

At the first few Healing Sundays Neville would select three of the core group to act as session coordinators. The names of the three coordinators were put on a whiteboard in one of the meeting rooms. As people arrived they were told to see one of these three if they wanted to run a healing segment during any of the four sessions. After a number of Healing Sundays the core group decided who the three coordinators would be.

The roles of these three people were to schedule who ran segments, to ensure variety, and ensure that the segment generally matched the mood of the group.

The coordinators would also schedule things so that the last segment in a session would end at the end of the session and not carry over to the next session.

At Neville's suggestion there was a tentative open agenda based on a theme of wellbeing. What came next during a session was a function of the unfolding context. The entry process into the first session contributed to attunement within the group. There was a superb friendly vibe. What tended to quickly emerge was a shared resonance among the attendees.

The coordinators were encouraged by Neville to sense this emerging resonance and notice what contributed to it emerging. They were also encouraged to notice any changes in resonance once group resonance emerged – was the group as 'group' looking for continuing their present energy, or shifting to higher or lower energy. Were they ready for hands-on work, or verbal work, or energy work?

Neville termed this 'an unfolding context-based open agenda'. The theme of each successive segment emerged from the coordinators reading of the group energy and was chosen on the spot by the three. The group was not asked what they wanted next. That would have been getting the group to 'go cortical' and begin talking about experience, rather than experiencing experience. At the end of each segment there was no discussion or feedback. This was to keep things experiential. There was scope to give feedback during breaks if people wanted to.

Anyone could put his or her name down to be a leader of a segment of a session when they arrived on Healing Sunday. Sometimes segments were led by Neville's invitees who were not part of the core group.

The coordinators would have a pool of people at each Healing Sunday open to and able to lead a segment. These people were told to be ready to run a segment at anytime during any session and that they would not necessarily be called upon.

During breaks Neville may briefly engage the coordinators in a review away from other attendees relating to their matching of segments to group resonance, their choice of segment themes, their sensing of the changing mood and values being expressed in group interaction, and their coordinating role.

Les found out in the late 1990s that these were the same aspects reviewed by Fraser House staff after every big group therapy session at Fraser House. Also, these were the aspects that Neville was constantly monitoring during his coordinating of Fraser House Big Group. Reviewing these aspects in Fraser House was a way of inducting Fraser House staff into Neville's way of coordinating Big Groups. Similarly, Neville was mentoring Healing Sunday coordinators in his way.

It was not known by those connected with Healing Sunday that this use of 'themes that emerged from the group' and 'context resonant theme change' was a fundamental aspect at Big Groups in Fraser House. In Fraser House, themes emerged from the group context and were selected as Keypoints for group engagement. Themes emerging from the Fraser House groups would typically be used if they had the property of being conducive to coherence in the group.

At Healing Sunday, one of the coordinators would take less than 30 seconds to introduce a segment leader or leaders.

Neville himself was never one of the three coordinators and he never led a segment. His way was to let others learn to do things by experiencing a task.

However, Neville was constantly scanning process and metaprocess (the process of the processes) within the group.

Segments could be up to 20 minutes in length. Some segments would be completed in less than 5 minutes. The segments were on anything to do with wellbeing – personal, inter-personal, group, family and communal wellbeing.

However, at Neville's insistence, one aspect was non-negotiable; everyone leading a segment had to have people experiencing something within 90 seconds. There was to be no long speeches, no spiels about theory, and no talking about experience. The aim was to have attendees experience experiencing things. If this 90 second limit on getting attendees experiencing something was not adhered to, the coordinator who had introduced the segment would stop that person and say words to the effect:

Stop and watch how other people do this and have another go on a later Healing Sunday.

Some found this 90-second limit a challenge. If after 60 seconds a segment leader had not started introducing the experience they would be given warning by the coordinator that they had 30 seconds remaining to do so. Some people were stopped and told to have another attempt at a later Healing Sunday and were successful on later occasions.

We learned how to introduce what Neville called 'micro-experiences'. The common experience was that when a segment leader briefly introduced a micro-experience, other attendees would use and link these micro-experiences in what could be called 'generative patterns' so that often the person who was leading a segment would learn new ways from attendees and would end up doing the most learning. Neville used the term 'co-learning' and 'co-enrichment' to encapsulate the repeated experience that segment leaders learned things from other attendees.

Many Healing Sundays had attendees who had never been before. Neville set up the coordinators to introduce one of a few opening rituals. A ritual would be chosen that fitted the context on the day. As an example, one of the opening rituals was a mirroring and mime experience that was firstly conducive to everyone learning and remembering everyone's name, secondly, having their awareness and attending capacities focused, and thirdly, knowing a lot about each person present.

In this particular opening, a coordinator would welcome everyone, identify the other coordinators and identify Neville as the host.

The opening ritual would be then outlined. A person at random would stand and say

'May name is (mentioning their name) and I like to'

Then the person would mime some simple action without speaking. It may be relating to say, swimming, or reading, or dancing, or snoozing, or the like – some pastime or interest.

Then the person to their left would stand and repeat what the first person said and did. That is, they would endeavour to 'become' the first person – and to the extent they were able, they were to mirror what the other person did – match voice, tone, inflection, pace, volume, and match the non verbal part as well.

Then they would introduce themselves:

'May name is (mentioning their name) and I like to'

Then that second person would mime their own action without speaking.

Then the next person to the left would mirror the first person, then the second, and then introduce himself or herself.

This pattern would be repeated around the whole group. As people mirrored each of the previous people they had more and more to remember. This was balanced by having heard and seen the sequence more and more times as we proceeded around the circle.

There were varying degrees of 'performance pressure' experienced by people as well as a build up of anticipation. People became very involved in attending to processes within the group. This served to introduce people to the experience of staying present and involved in group process for the rest of the sessions during the day.

When all had participated, the first person to introduce themselves was to become each person in sequence all round the group. Typically people did very well. If people struggled they were assisted. Invariably people bring a lot of themselves to this task and astute observers were able to have a massive amount of information about those present.

The final part of this ritual was for everyone to randomly shift seats so that the sequence was very different to the original. Then people would randomly have a go at becoming each person in going around the new sequence quickly, which added to the humour.

Then everyone would be invited by a coordinator to mingle and meet and say the person's name that they were meeting and obtain confirmation that they had the name correct. Typically everyone knew everyone's name at the end of this sequence. The coordinators kept the ritual moving and it was completed within 30 to 40 minutes. This left time for one or more segments for the first session.

There were some Healing Sundays with contexts that did not lend themselves to using this opening ritual and another context-appropriate welcome process was used.

As an example, a couple of times Neville or others had invited people with particular dysfunctionality such that the above opening ritual would have overwhelmed them.

Neville was very actively involved in Healing Sunday. However someone outside of the core group would generally have little idea of this. As well, many of the core group not engaged in the coordinator role would have little idea of the seminal role Neville was playing behind the scenes.

Neville started Healing Sunday by engaging Les in doing all of the contacting of the core group to get Healing Sundays started. Neville's experience from his Fraser House days was that groups work best if they have less than 20, or more than 50 members.

Groups of fewer than 20 can have intimacy. With over fifty members, crowd and audience effects tend to emerge and can be used by an experienced enabler. In groups of between twenty to fifty members, sub-groups and individuals tend to vie for attention.

With this experience in mind, Neville networked by phone with people he knew to ensure that extra people attended so that at least 50 and up to 60 people were present.

The number of people attending was crucial for using audience and crowd effects and Neville did not leave teeing up extra attendees to others. Some of the core group of 20 would invite people, though most were Neville's invitees. Neville had a large number of addresses and phone numbers in three books that he always had nearby.

In 1999 when Neville was told that he had a very short time to live he passed these three address books to a female nurturer who he knew would make strategic use of them.

Sixty was the largest number that could squeeze into Neville's Bondi Junction house comfortably, and that number meant we would be shoulder-to-shoulder with each other. This mirrored the way people were crowded into Big Group therapy in Fraser House.

Neville had found in Fraser House that keeping to a strict time length for sessions prevented what he called 'session creep' - that is, sessions getting longer and longer.

At Fraser House important work tended to be left by attendees to late in a session, and if the session was extended to work with this 'important work', then intensive work would tend to get later in starting during each subsequent session. Sessions would have kept getting longer and longer. When everyone knows that the session will end in one hour no matter what is happening, people tended to get started immediately. This was a reason why Neville had the strict time schedule.

The gathering space in Neville's house was two adjoining rooms with folding doors between them that were pushed open. The front room was around 4 metres square and the adjacent room was around 5.5 metres square with a staircase running up the side of it. People would sit on chairs, couches and cushions in an elongated circle. Often people would be sitting on the stairs looking down on the others. Once we went into experiential mode people would spread out through the entrance hallway and into a third room behind the first two rooms. Sometimes we would experience something alone, e.g. shifting awareness around our body guided by the facilitator. Sometimes we would experience things in pairs, in 3s, 4s or small groups. Some things, for example, chanting would involve everyone.

The sessions were wonderfully rich and varied. During the 18 months we experienced a wide range of healing modalities; all aspects of Neuro-linguistic Programming or NLP, as well as Milton Erickson's therapeutic processes.

There were lots on segments on listening, attending and awareness, many movement related processes including Feldenkrais and somatic therapies, voice work, breathing processes, singing and chanting, as well as energy and subtle energy work.

An Aboriginal person with a Balinese friend facilitated an intriguing session on sensing, experiencing and mirroring the non-verbal communication and movement used by people from other cultures. The Aboriginal person had immersed himself in the cultural nuances of Chinese and Japanese minorities living with them in their homelands in gaining his Masters Degree. As an example, the Balinese person combined pelvic fluidity and smiling when he asked for the time in Balinese. The swaying moving and broad relaxed smile was a fundamental aspect of the way the Balinese person expressed himself. Some people with Anglo backgrounds found incorporating smiling and pelvic sway into their communicating was extremely difficult – all of the muscles connected to their pelvis and around their face were rigid. Sometimes spontaneous things would happen. On one occasion a lunchtime discussion theme for some had been gender relations and stereotypes. A deliveryman brought a small, though still very heavy upright piano in the middle of a session. All of the women decided that they would immediately hold an impromptu segment on working together in getting the piano upstairs. With the males as silent process observers, the women quickly tapped into their combined creative talent and worked out a strategy to very safely get the piano up the stairs, around the landing, and up a second flight to a room upstairs. They did this with consummate ease in no time at all and were very proud of themselves - and received a standing ovation from very impressed menfolk.

During Healing Sunday there was always an abundance of food. For the midday feast a large sheet of plastic was put down on the floor in the two front rooms to protect the carpet. Brightly colour tablecloths were spread on top. Many of the beautifully arranged platters of food were spread out along the full length of the rooms upon the tablecloths. Colour, taste and presentation in the food were a feature. It was truly a Feast. More food was on platters placed on a breakfast bench in the kitchen. People sat on the floor in the two front rooms and chatted as they ate. Some would eat on an outdoor table setting under a suspended grape vine in a small backyard.

180 visitors can create a lot of housework. People had tea and coffee and often breakfast upon arrival and had drinks and food at the morning snack-break and the midday feast.

At the same time Neville set a standard that everyone was to be seated at the commencement time of each and every session, and that the house would be spotless with no work to be done at the end of the last session.

Neville spoke to the attendees at the start of the second gathering with the theme of community self care and what kinds of things we as a community of carers could do to nurturer our place and likened it to a bird's nest. He then went on to talk about birds preening themselves and arranging their feathers.

From the subsequent group discussion there was an agreement by consensus that we as a group would preen both ourselves and environment while at Neville's house. Any emerging 'mess' would be removed.

Three minutes before each session was to start the call would go out, 'Preening time!' 'Preening time!'

During this time everyone was to engage in three minutes of preening of the house. Three minutes work from 180 people is 9 hours of work completed in three minutes! With four sessions, 36 hours of work would get done.

As many as could fit around the kitchen sink would choreograph their movements in a dance as all dishes, cups and utensils were washed and dried in 3 minutes. A vacuum cleaner was available and used. Other cleaning equipment was available. Windows were washed. The little back yard was swept. Magazines were rearranged. Bookshelves were placed in alphabetical order. Typically, everyone was seated at the start of every session. And the house was spotless when everyone left.

Many said that they had established preening time in their own households and housework had ceased to be a chore.

With an upstairs and a downstairs toilet available, these were in constant use during the breaks so everyone had finished prior to preening time. No one left a session to use the toilet. No work was required at the end of the last session and people would typically leave shortly after it finished.

In knowing Healing Sunday finished sharp at 3PM people typically scheduled other things to do afterwards. They had experienced excellent networking before the first session and during the breaks and typically they did not linger at the end.

While Healing Sundays were free to attend, Neville made use of these days to invite one or two of his psychiatric clients to experience being in a group context within a wellbeing community. Neville would have these clients sign the Federal Government Health-Care slip for an extended therapy session for the day.

During the first five minutes of the third session, administrative matters were covered and anyone could make brief announcements relating to upcoming events. Attendees running up-coming workshops would take this opportunity to let people know. Others may be holding a dinner party or meeting at a restaurant.

Others may let attendees know of a workshop or event that they knew was about to happening. This admin session was an integral aspect of evolving networking networks.

After eighteen months there was a navel gazing session about Healing Sunday. The core group had seen its birth and growth to maturity. There had been a shared understanding about the aims of the Healing Sunday – 'evolving a dispersed urban wellbeing community'. That aim had been well achieved - a dispersed wellbeing group had been formed and was alive and well. People were linking with each other. No one had to be alone for Christmas dinner.

The members had acquired a wide range of wellbeing skills and had many people they could call on for support. We elected to stop having Healing Sundays and the last day was as good as the first.

Healing Sunday was never reconvened and many of the 180 network to this day. In ceasing when it was a sustained success it lives in peoples memories as just that – a magnificent success.

Neville played a very potent, though subtle behind-the-scene role in every aspect of the Healing Sunday experience. He was the enabler par excellence. He supported people to be able. He was continually energising contexts rich with possibilities. Many of these were embraced by others for functional change. In this he was a model for other people interested in being catalysts for social wellbeing. Resonant people may consider replicating Healing Sunday in their local area

This concludes this program.

We have been discussing how Dr Neville Yeomans extended Therapeutic Community within civil society.

The next program in the Fraser House series discusses the links between Healing Sunday and action occurring throughout the Australia Top End and extending through the East Asia Oceania Region. The program is called:

Healing Sunday and Nurturing Community Action for Global Wellbeing

I'm Craig Fees for Radio TC International and this program has been drawn from a paper by Dr Les Spencer a behavioural scientist and clinical sociologist in Melbourne, Australia.

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