A genealogy of therapeutic community ideas: the influence of the Frankfurt School with a particular focus on Herbert Marcuse and Eric Fromm

Gary Winship (Associate Professor, based at School of Education, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)



The purpose of this paper is to construct a genealogy of therapeutic communities (TCs), with the espoused commitment to flattened hierarchies and democratic ideologies, the paper considers the lineage of the Frankfurt School of Social Research and its influence in setting a frame for TC ideology, with a particular focus on Herbert Marcuse and Eric Fromm. This genealogy provides further context to the contribution of two other key Frankfurters, Karl Mannheim and Michael Foulkes, who progressed therapeutic democracy in the UK and shaped the early days of the TC as a group-based treatment paradigm.


Discourse analysis and collective biography based on biographical details, texts and witness accounts.


The works of Marcuse and Fromm provide a hybrid psychosocial post-Freudian schemas that beckoned philosophic reconciliation between the state and the personal psyche culminating in new left psychoanalytic academic sectors. Eric Fromm's contribution is situated squarely in the clinical sphere in the USA dating from the 1930s after he fled from Germany and settled in the USA where he became a well-known lecturer at Chestnut Lodge during a time when it was developing its approach under the rubric of “milieu therapy”. Marcuse's influence on psychiatry is tracked through the development of ideas and writings emerging from his reading of Freud, finally intersecting with the emergence of TCs and anti-psychiatry when he delivered the keynote address at the Dialectics of Liberation Conference in London in 1967. Held at the height of the first generation of TCs, Joe Berke, R.D. Laing and colleagues considered Marcuse as someone to headline the Dialectics Conference because; “Marcuse was the Grandpapa of Flower Power” (Joe Berke said).


A rapprochement between milieu therapy in the USA, influenced by Fromm and Marcuse and the European tradition of TCs, influenced by Mannheim and Foulkes is demonstrated. The Frankfurt Institute of Social Research can be seen as an ideological corner that transcends Atlantic divides, and provides a sturdy and lasting intellectual cornerstone for the history of ideas in the field of social psychiatry.



Winship, G. (2013), "A genealogy of therapeutic community ideas: the influence of the Frankfurt School with a particular focus on Herbert Marcuse and Eric Fromm", Therapeutic Communities: The International Journal of Therapeutic Communities, Vol. 34 No. 2/3, pp. 60-70. https://doi.org/10.1108/TC-05-2013-0010

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