How Do Clubhouses Work?

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(Seacoast Pathways, a program of Granite Pathways, is a mental health recovery peer community in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.)

Many ask us, "How does a Clubhouse operate?"

All Clubhouses under the flag of Clubhouse International operate using a set of 37 standards. On its website Clubhouse International writes, "The principles expressed in these Standards are at the heart of the Clubhouse community’s success in helping people with mental illness to achieve social, financial, educational and vocational goals. The Standards also serve as a 'bill of rights' for members and a code of ethics for staff, board, and administrators. The Standards insist that a Clubhouse is a place that offers respect and opportunity to its members." (https://clubhouse-intl.org/)

To give our supporters and other readers a closer look at standards, we are providing Standard #37 as an example as just one way a Clubhouse operates. This standard states, "The Clubhouse holds open forums and has procedures which enable members and staff to actively participate in decision making, generally by consensus, regarding governance, policy making, and the future direction and development of the Clubhouse." A hallmark of Seacoast Pathways Clubhouse is that members equally share with staff the decision making regarding how the Clubhouse operates. This is rare, if not unique, in the world of mental health services and is a key to recovery through empowerment. Members have a stake in the organization.

As an illustration, Policy Meetings are held at Clubhouses, usually monthly. They are usually not about programs offered, but more about basic ways the Clubhouse operates. Topics can range from something as simple as the hours of operation the Clubhouse employs to more philosophical issues such as evaluating the effectiveness of certain or all tasks within a work ordered day.

Standard #37 dictates Policy Meetings as it states, The Clubhouse holds open forums and has procedures which enable members and staff to actively participate in decision making, generally by consensus, regarding governance, policy making, and the future direction and development of the Clubhouse.

Our most recent Policy Meeting was equally attended by members and staff and covered 8 topics, the most pressing being the needs of members as we gradually return to normal operations in the wake of the recent pandemic. During that discussion, a member made the point that those with mental health issues have had a very difficult time, especially not being able to access the Clubhouse physically, and that "returning to normal" creates a lot of anxiety.

In response, our Executive Director referenced another standard (#28) that states, "The Clubhouse provides assistance, activities and opportunities designed to help members develop and maintain healthy lifestyles" and this led to a discussion of how our Clubhouse can do that in regard to our re-opening. One member was particularly vocal in expressing her concerns that members shouldn't be expected to return to the normal and usual work-ordered-day without some sort of "intervention or re-orientation." We all agreed. As the discussion continued, the point was made that social activities are often good icebreakers. From there it was decided by unanimous consensus that the Clubhouse should plan a wide variety of events that are fun, engaging and designed to make members' returns to the Clubhouse easier.

"Consensus" is important. It doesn't always mean that a unanimous vote is needed. It simply implies that a Policy Meeting requires a general acceptance of agenda decisions, but members can voice disagreements at which point assurances are given that the decision will be rendered with their points considered as much as possible, asking any dissenters, "Can you live with that?"

Members attending Policy Meetings, voicing concerns and opinions, and playing an equal role with staff in determining outcomes of agenda items is a perfect example of one way Seacoast Pathways provides recovery in a non-clinical setting by "offering respect and opportunity." We hope this helps answer the question, "How do Clubhouses operate?”

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