Hope and Perspective

by Wander Reitsma, former chairman of Clubhouse Europe

Summary of my farewell speech on the occasion of my departure as chairman of Clubhouse Europe. The summary is provided with some notes and explanations to clarify the message. The farewell took place at the 16th European Clubhouse Conference in November 2020.

Soon after my appointment as director of clubhouse De Waterheuvel in 2008, I fell under the spell of the magic of the Clubhouse Model. Never before had I met so many people with psychiatric problems who found their way (back) to a dignified existence in society in all its aspects. This was the main reason I started to actively promote the fantastic clubhouse model both nationally and internationally. For the past 10 years I have been able to do this with great enthusiasm on the board of Clubhouse Europe.

For me it was incomprehensible and unacceptable that the Clubhouse Model had not yet led to a breakthrough in the world. For decades the number of clubhouses has fluctuated around 300 communities. Clubhouses withdraw and new ones are added, but we don’t see any real growth. What is the reason for this? The most heard explanation is the invisibility of the model. It is sometimes called “the world’s best kept secret”.

A few years ago, the Board of Clubhouse International further tightened the quality requirements for clubhouses by making accreditation a condition for Clubhouse International’s acceptance as a clubhouse. The main motive for this was that guaranteed high quality would distinguish us, which would accelerate the growth of the number of clubhouses. Unfortunately, this expectation did not materialize. The percentage of accredited clubhouses versus non-accredited clubhouses is increasing, but the total amount remains more or less the same. Apparently a stricter accreditation does not lead to growth.

Making clubhouses and the model more visible – an important focal point of Clubhouse Europe in recent years – did not lead to growth either. Certainly, we do command respect and here and there we see more support at a higher level in the administration of a country. This usually leads to a more important position of the model as is the case in Finland and Norway. We are mentioned, praised and have even received prestigious awards. We became more visible. Unfortunately, somehow the Clubhouse Model seems not to be attractive enough to implement it on a large scale.

I think we need to formulate a new strategy for the growth of clubhouses in the world. We need to work out what we should do next ”to realize a world where people with mental illness recover and can be an integral part of society.”1

We need a strategy that is no longer based on the growth of clubhouses themselves or the replication of the Clubhouse Model. Our focus should be on sharing our experience and expertise on creating and maintaining communities for people suffering from mental illness. Supporting other parties advocating mental health reforms, allowing them to develop mental health services on their own terms. This way we leave behind the sectarian image

1 Vision of Clubhouse International as mentioned on the website.

that sticks to us and gets in our way. We also shed off the imperative character that our way of organizing a clubhouse community entails on the basis of the standards and the accreditation.

We will become knowledgeable consultants on how to realize communities for people with lived experience.

Does this mean that at the end of my clubhouse career, I have come to the conclusion that it was all useless?

On the contrary. I still believe in the magic of the clubhouse as fervently as I did when I started this job, twelve years ago. But our approach, knowledge and experience must be made available to all those millions who suffer daily from their psychiatric problems and its consequences and not be limited to the members of the current 300 clubhouses. To realize this new strategy we desperately need the existing clubhouses to act as a resource to fuel this new international advisory practice.

I ended my speech with a fantasy that I have. The fantasy is about my visit to the Museum of Psychiatry in the year 2121, one hundred years from now. It is a large building with a separate pavilion dedicated to community based recovery (CBR). In the hall is a sign with a map. I see that all parts of the building have a name. These are all names that I know so well and have a special meaning for me: the hall is called “Pauli Löija Hall”, I see the “Joel Corcoran Corridor”, the “Ken Dudek Wing” and many, many other names of all those fantastic people from the clubhouse world who have enriched my life so much2. I end up in a room full of tables with chairs and computer screens. On one table my name is mentioned on a copper plate: “Wander Reitsma 1952 – 2047” (Fortunately I still have plenty of time!). And I am going to sit on a chair, labelled “Kinga Jedrzejczak” and touch a screen labelled “Petra Nieuwlaat”. An article appears entitled “History of the Clubhouse Movement 1948 to 2048”. I quickly read through the article and read about the tremendous impact the Clubhouse Model has had on the development of the tens of thousands of so-called “Society Development Centers” world-wide run by or with people with a psychiatric vulnerability. The last classic clubhouse to close was the “Russia House” in Moscow.

And then I realize that I have been part of that fantastic clubhouse movement! A wave of gratitude and pride passes through me. Please, let that fantasy become reality! I wish you all the strength, wisdom and luck to realize that!

Hope and Perspective, that’s what matters.

2 Besides these names I see the “John Beard Restaurant“, the “Bjorn Asplund Winery“, the “Vera Hahn and Jennifer Miller Konditorei“, the “Robby Vorspan Library“, the “Guido Valentini Theater” with the “Kevin Barnas Stage” and the “Kees Apeldoorn Balcony”, the “Cyrus Napolitano Garden” with the “Colleen MacKay Pond”, the “Alan Doyle Center for Social Practice”, the “Lori d’Angelo Center” with the “Francesca Pernice Research Unit”, the “Afzal Javed Panorama”, the “Jack Yatsko Corner”, the “Gunilla Bystrom Office for Financial Affairs”,
Ralph Aquila Top Care Desk”, “Esko Hänninen Debating Club“, “Anita Brix Room”, the “Beatrice Bergamasco Palazzo“, the “Criss Habal Floor“, the “Martin Dives Cinema“, the “Ashwin Vasan Fire Escape”, the “Emily Adamberry Olivero Press Room” , the “Jeff Aron Award Room” , the “Alena Stanislauchyk Video Parlor” and the “Michiel de Leeuw Auditorium” and many, many other names of people I met during my exciting clubhouse world experience.