therapeutic communities collection

at the University of Kentucky

Coordinators: Harry Wexler, PhD; Claire D. Clark, PhD, MPH; Sarah Dorpinghaus, MLIS

Current Partners: Amity Foundation, Gateway, Samaritan/Daytop

Contact Sarah Dorpinghaus ( for information about donating to or accessing the collection.

The therapeutic community (TC) is a model of addiction treatment that emerged in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. From the 1930s until the 1960s, addiction treatment was extremely limited; the two most prominent centers were housed in federal penitentiaries managed by the US Public Health Service in Lexington, KY and Fort Worth, TX. When the nation shifted from centralized to community-based treatment in the late 1960s and early 1970s, TC leaders played an instrumental role as treatment advocates and researchers. TCs helped lay the groundwork for the nation’s modern system of addiction treatment.

While the TC model has evolved over past several decades, most TCs can be characterized as drug- free, residential treatment centers that use mutual aid to facilitate the recovery process. TCs have historically viewed compulsive drug use as a symptom of maladaptive behavioral, attitudinal, and emotional characteristics. TCs use peer influence to help alter the characteristics associated with drug use and to re-socialize residents with dysfunctional work or relationship histories. Many TCs are structured according to a hierarchical model in which residents move through treatment “stages” that indicate increased levels of personal responsibility. Historically, high-ranking permanent positions at TCs were often occupied by former substance users or people in recovery. As the most prominent model of residential treatment to emerge during heroin epidemic of the 1970s, therapeutic communities established a precedent for other drug-free, residential treatment centers founded in the coming decades.

The Therapeutic Communities Collection at the University of Kentucky documents the history of influential TCs. To date, most primary sources for this history have been either oral and informal, or widely dispersed in the archives of individuals or organizations. The TC Collection project aims to bring together important records from various treatment centers so that researchers and the general public will be able to holistically study the emergence, institutionalization, and differentiation of the TC model and the evolution of the addiction treatment industry more broadly.

The collecting project is focused on high-level archival institutional records such as internal histories, board meeting minutes, annual reports, unpublished research, and promotional materials from a variety of TCs. These materials are being organized, processed, digitized, and permanently preserved according to archival-quality guidelines. Select materials are being made accessible and searchable via the University of Kentucky’s online digital library.

Other useful repositories of primary sources about therapeutic communities:

Synanon Collection, University of California at Los Angeles Special Collections

Phoenix House Oral History Collection, Columbia Center for Oral History

Addicts Who Survived Oral History Collection (available upon request), Columbia Center for Oral History

Archive and Research Services, Los Angeles Free Press