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Whatever Happened to Synanon? The Birth of the Anticriminal Therapeutic Community Methodology

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Policy Review Volume: 13 Issue: 4 Dated: December 2002 Pages: 329-336
Lewis Yablonsky
Date Published
December 2002
8 pages
This article reviews the history of Synanon, the first therapeutic community (TC), which was founded by Charles E. Dederich in California in 1958, noting that although the movement known as Synanon dissolved after some 35 years due largely to a loss of its initial focus, the TC method pioneered by Synanon continues to be effective throughout the world in treating drug addicts.
From 1961 to 1966, the author of this article spent a part of almost every day at Synanon, whose participants consisted primarily of former hardcore criminal/addicts who were in the process of changing their lives. The author became "research director" and a member of the early board of directors. His work at Synanon yielded a book entitled, "The Tunnel Back: Synanon" (Yablonsky, 1965). The book delineates the structure of the Synanon One methodology as an anti-criminal society and a clear breakthrough in the process of treating criminal/addicts. The Synanon program initially involved Dederich having approximately 60 former hardcore criminal/addicts living with him and staying drug-free in a beach house in Santa Monica. During these early years, the interaction of these individuals in communal living under the motivation to become free of drug addiction and a criminal lifestyle based largely in illegal drugs yielded long-term, positive behavioral changes. The program began its decline toward demise when Dederich sought to move Synanon to another level of human experience by attempting to develop an all-inclusive utopian community for any who wished to join the community, whether or not they had a serious drug addiction. The author of this article touts the basic elements of Synanon as a TC, in which former addicts help current addicts to deal with their addiction and become drug-free. The author advises that the thousands of replications of the Synanon TC method have shown the world a methodology that will become the dominant model for the treatment of drug addiction. 6 references