Founded in 1958 by Charles E. Dederich, Synanon pioneered a breakthrough approach to the treatment of drug dependence. Using some of the approaches he had personally experienced in Alcoholics Anonymous, a mixture of self-reliance and Buddhist philosophies, and his own bombastic interpersonal style, Dederich shaped a self-help organization that grew from a small storefront in Santa Monica, California, to over 2,000 members in multiple residential settings across the United States by the early 1970s. The organization amassed considerable wealth, and as it became more self-sufficient, Synanon members began to consider their process a religion. By the mid-1970s, the organization was engaging in controlling and even violent practices against its members, including forced vasectomies and abortions. The whole system also began to have increasingly violent interactions with outsiders—including intimidation and actual physical assaults. The organization, so lauded in the press during its early years, became an object of national criticism. Then Dederich reversed his earlier position of shunning chemicals and began to drink. In 1978, he was indicted for conspiracy to commit murder, and the court instructed him to vacate leadership. A small cadre of members still venerated him until his death in 1997. Synanon ceased its drug-treatment programs in the 1980s and is no longer involved in any human-service business.

Controversies aside, the methodologies developed and refined by Synanon became the precursor for the drug-free Therapeutic Community approach. This strategy has proven significantly effective for both Adolescents and adults, regardless of the types of drug they use.

The salient ingredients pioneered at Synanon remain fundamentally intact in drug-free therapeutic communities in the United States and elsewhere. These fundamental ingredients fall into four major categories: (1) behavior management and behavior shaping, (2) emotional and psychological life,

(3) ethical and intellectual development, and

(4) work and vocational life. Within each of these categories, elaborate sets of techniques use deliber ate but artful dissonance and confrontation as major tools for changing behavior.

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