Each of these communities is set up as a normal type of human organization, a club, reflecting the premise that the participants, while having diagnoses such as schizophrenia, bipolar, and major depression, retain capacities for normal human responsiveness to others. They have needs and capabilities common to all people. They need treatment for the illness, and they also need friends. They need to experience themselves and be experienced by others as persons of value. The club is situated in a clubhouse building where the participants belong as members. Members and staff work together to operate the club, giving members opportunities to participate in work that benefits the community and to experience themselves as valued contributors. Then the clubhouse constructs bridges to society outside the clubhouse enabling members to obtain employment, secure housing, and advance their education.
The aim of this design is to counteract the personal disparagement and social isolation typically experienced by people with mental illness and to shift the sense of identity of members toward a recognition of themselves as valued human beings. Clubhouse experience shows that when people are treated as valued contributors to a community where they belong they start to do things they didn't do before. A change in self-image promotes a change in behavior. It doesn't eliminate the illness, but it boosts productive capacities and thereby lessens the scope of the limitations brought by the illness.
Clubhouses actively promote the involvement of members in psychiatric treatment and medication, which happens not at the clubhouse but from outside providers. Countering popular misconceptions, violence rarely occurs. In my 32 years at Fountain House, I was physically attacked by a member only once, and then immediate intervention by staff and other members prevented any injury. All participation by members at the clubhouse is voluntary, and mostly they are cooperative and grateful for the appreciation and opportunities provided by the clubhouse.
There is a substantial body of literature about the model, a set of Standards elucidating the model, and an organization devoted to promoting the development of the model worldwide, The International Center for Clubhouse Development (www.iccd.org). You may contact them or a Clubhouse Model program in your local community for more information, all of which are listed in an ICCD directory.