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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.

Video by Alex Widdowson (Tumblr, Vimeo, Instagram)

9 May 2019

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