Therapeutic Communities and the Cultural Politics of Addiction Treatment, 1958-1974 Open Access

Clark, Claire D. (2014)

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"Therapeutic Communities and the Cultural Politics of Addiction Treatment" describes how a
California commune of ex-heroin addicts refashioned addiction treatment in the early 1960s.
The Synanon commune's ex-addicts employed confrontational therapy to force each other to
come to terms with their indulgence and denial. Before Synanon's therapeutic innovation,
addiction treatment options were limited to federal penitentiaries and hospital detoxification
units; after Synanon, government-supported programs surged. I draw on original oral
histories and fresh archival sources to explain why the controversial commune's therapeutic
model was both embraced by a counterculture of non-addicted spiritual seekers and scaled up
under the Nixon administration's "war on drugs." In the process, I argue that charismatic ex-addict
change agents significantly influenced the shifting drug policies that became a pivotal
legacy of the 1960s, even as the co-optation of their methods forestalled radical challenges to
punitive drug policies after the 1960s ended.

This dissertation makes several contributions to historical scholarship. First, historians have
largely viewed the political conflict of the "Long 1960s" in relation to social movements or
the national and global impact of the Vietnam War; far fewer scholars have explored how the
seemingly apolitical arena of medicine was influenced by the demands of new interest groups
from across the political spectrum. Second, scholars who have analyzed drug cultures of the
Sixties have focused on drug use as a symbol of countercultural excess. Medical historians
have likewise concentrated on drug use (not treatment) by describing how scientific experts
helped construct the concept of addiction and why powerful politicians sought to combat it.
As recovering addicts' abstinence-based treatment model ultimately proved compatible with
a drug war agenda, this study is among the first to explore the role that addicts and ex-addicts
themselves play in historical cycles of punitive and therapeutic addiction policies.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Birth of Treatment Radicalism...1

Chapter One: Creating the Synanon Cure...19

Chapter Two: Selling Synanon...29

Chapter Three: Synanon Rashomon...65

Chapter Four: Co-optation...98

Chapter Five: Violence and Legitimation...151

Conclusion: The Revolution's Aftermath...189

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