The radical project that rejected ‘mental illness’ and embraced communal healing
The influential Scottish-born psychiatrist R D Laing established an innovative approach to alleviating psychological anguish when, in 1965, he co-founded the Philadelphia Association. The organisation, which still operates in London, is centred on a communal approach to wellbeing where people who are experiencing acute mental distress live together in a Philadelphia Association house, with routine visits from therapists. Influenced by existentialist philosophy and the anti-psychiatry movement, which characterises psychological difficulties as a personal struggle rather than an ‘illness’, the organisation offers an alternative to what its advocates view as ‘confrontational’ treatment methods and medical interventions. Through evocative stop-motion animations, the UK filmmaker Alex Widdowson draws on interviews with a current house therapist, a former house resident, and the UK author and cultural historian Mike Jay, to explore the thinking behind the organisation’s methodology and contextualise its legacy.