Fairweather Lodge Model: A Story of Success

Most folks throw up their hands at the mention of mental illness. It can be threatening, disheartening, and considered a lost cause. The truth is that one out of ten people will experience a major mental illness in their lifetime. Mental illness affects one out of four families. So what are the solutions?

In the 1960’s, a psychologist named George Fairweather came up with a model for the severely and persistently mentally ill that has had great success wherever it has been instituted. The idea behind the Fairweather Lodge model is that people who live together and work together can recover from their devastating condition.

He started a lodge in California and documented the ability of the lodge mates to transcend the illness through peer support. People got better. They lived in a group home called a lodge and worked together at a business that was owned by them.

With the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill in the mid-1950’s, the doors of the state institutions that hospitalized the mentally ill were opened. This was a direct result of the discovery that medication, at that time, Thorazine, could relieve the symptoms of mental illness. However, many from the population of the mentally ill were unable to assimilate back into society and were plagued by homelessness, alcoholism, and crime. The Fairweather Lodge model gave a working answer to this huge problem of how to integrate the mentally ill successfully into the community.

Group process and peer support are the bedrock of the program. Some variations in the model are out there, but those two elements are always required for a successful lodge. The outcomes are there in the form of exponential reduction in hospital stays, relative satisfaction among the lodge members on their lifestyle, earnings among lodge members, and a great, great reduction in the cost to society compared with any other treatment available.

Mental illness can be a very unpleasant topic, but for those touched by it, answers are necessary. The Fairweather Lodge Model is an example of something that works. It isn’t perfect, but every indication says that it is preferable to what else is out there.

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