Social Therapy

Social therapy is a non-diagnostic and non-problem-oriented therapy. As proponents and practitioners of non-medical model understandings and practices, social therapists take an approach more cultural than scientific, more philosophical than psychological, and more dialectical than dynamic. With their clients, they engage the emotional impact of living in a culture in which what we are socialized to see are problems and solutions, in which individual and group are understood to be in opposition, and in which who you “are” must be known and then commodified while who you are “becoming” is rarely considered. This happens through organizing heterogeneous groups of people to take responsibility for the social-emotional development of the group and its members. With the support of the social therapist, their task in therapy is to create an environment in which everyone can get help. People discover that while we all experience pain as individuals, we “get better”—that is, we grow and develop emotionally—with others.

Social therapy has been practiced continuously since it was created in the mid-1970s by the late philosopher and social activist Fred Newman. The training of social therapists is conducted by the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy, founded by Newman and developmental psychologist Lois Holzman. Over the decades thousands of children, adults and families have been in social therapy. In 2015, the Social Therapy Group in New York City maintains a client base of 175-200 people, and there are affiliated centers in Boston and Atlanta. Most clients are in weekly therapy groups with people of varied backgrounds, histories and ages; some are experiencing severe emotional pain and/or relationship or family issues, some have been given a psychiatric diagnosis elsewhere, some are feeling stuck in their lives.

Additionally, hundreds of social workers, psychologists, counselors and others have trained at the East Side Institute in an intensive therapist training program or one of several short term training options. Many have opened social therapy practices in their states or countries and many more incorporate aspects of the social therapeutic approach into their existing practice and/or institution.

Derived from social therapy, social therapeutics is the term for the approach in the broader sense of a methodology for human development and learning inextricably linked to the building of community. Social therapeutics is studied and practiced in diverse settings, including educational, medical, business consulting, and social service organizations and NGOs worldwide. In addition to dozens of academic books and book chapters on social therapeutics and social therapy, articles on the topic appear in such journals as Theory & Psychology, Journal of Constructivist Psychology, Annual Review of Critical Psychology, Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology, Journal of Systemic Therapies, New Ideas in Psychology, Mind, Culture and Activity and Human Studies.