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  • Stephanie McMahon

The roots of therapeutic community

Gould Farm rests on a long and interesting history and occupies a unique place in the landscape of mental health treatment. The Farm embodies many of the hallmarks of compassionate and effective treatment from the past and offers a model for the future that is an antidote to the challenges we face today, with jails and homeless shelters as de facto housing for people with mental illnesses. To gain a better perspective on how and why Gould Farm exists and persists, we offer a quick history lesson starting in the 1700s.

Claire and Ella harvesting microgreens together in the greenhouse. Microgreens are grown throughout the winter and eaten with great appreciation by the community.

The Moral treatment movement


At the end of the 1700s, a physician in France named Phillipe Pinel and a Quaker tradesman and philanthropist from England named William Tuke became champions for more humane and ethical care of people with mental illness.


Pinel used the term moral treatment to describe a philosophy that centered the care of those with mental illness around kindness, certain freedoms, and access to recreation, conversation, and light manual labor. Pinel and Tuke’s ideas were a radical departure from the rather brutal approaches to people with mental illness during that time.


Moral treatment became a movement that emphasized the importance of the environment as being the primary therapeutic tool to help people reconnect as participants in everyday life. The desire to create a better environment for those with mental illness led to the creation of the first asylums in the late 1700s.


Dix and Kirkbride in the U.S.


The moral treatment movement quickly found its way to the United States. Dorothea Dix, an advocate, social reformer, and activist on behalf of those with mental illness, is celebrated as someone who shaped the mental health treatment landscape in the early to mid-1800s. Her energetic and devoted life resulted in the opening of 30 psychiatric facilities in the Northeast and beyond.

Fergus Falls State Hospital in 2012, one of the psychiatric facilities designed according to the Kirkbride plan. Photo by Mr. Moment from Minnesota - used with attribution under creative commons 2.0

Dix pushed for psychiatric hospitals to be spacious, with lots of light, and beautiful grounds. Dix was good friends with another prominent reformer, Thomas Kirkbride. Kirkbride was a physician and superintendent of a psychiatric facility and he advocated for the inclusion of meaningful work in the daily lives of those living at the asylums. Together, Dix and Kirkbride helped to create environments where kindness, welcome, and purpose were part of the daily recovery plan for patients.


Founding of Gould Farm


No doubt influenced by the work of Dix and Kirkbride, social reformers William and Agnes Gould set out in the early 1900s to create a community in Western Massachusetts where anyone in need could come, participate in meaningful work, and be a member of a community. Gould Farm was founded in 1913. The Goulds had ties to psychiatrists at hospitals in Boston and New York City, who would send their patients to work on this small therapeutic farm in western Massachusetts from time to time.

William Gould and Agnes (Goodyear) Gould standing in front of Main House

An antidote to today’s challenges


The model has endured - in all its complex simplicity - for over 100 years. Over the decades Gould Farm has evolved its clinical approaches to keep pace with the best mental health treatments. We have never strayed from our core values of purpose, belonging, and recovery in a beautiful and supportive setting as non-negotiable aspects of recovery of mind, body, and spirit.


In the 1920s, asylums took a turn for the worse as they became overcrowded and mismanaged for a host of reasons. Today, they no longer exist as they did in their heyday. Places like Gould Farm and a few other therapeutic communities have managed to operate at scale and effectively, offer financial assistance to families, and have held true to the most inspiring elements of the moral treatment movement while keeping an eye to the future.


To learn more

To learn more about the current state of mental health reform, check out the recently published, Fighting for Recovery, authored by Gould Farm Board chair, Phyllis Vine, Ph.D.


To learn more about the moral treatment movement, listen to the 99% Invisible podcast episode, The Kirkbride Plan. Gould Farmers were interviewed as part of this episode.


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