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This ethnography of long-term residential programs for drug users compares a therapeutic community (TC) with an evangelical Christian "training program." Using participant observation and life history interviews, it pursues three themes. The first is comparative and descriptive. It poses a basic similarity between the ideologically disparate programs. Parallels in program process and personal experience of "identity transformation" (conversion) are described. Despite the religious/secular divide, important similarities in anthropological assumptions are also identified. Contrary to earlier research, the singularity of the clientele is demonstrated. Other parallels include the ritual function of prayer and encounter, the centrality of selective biographical reconstruction, and the uses of "vocabularies of motive."
These comparisons suggest that any significant difference between the TC "treatment" and "discipleship training" will be largely rhetorical. Both programs employ analogous social and psychological methods, but construct their meanings differently. One uses a supernatural rationale; the other, a scientific one. This leaves the TC open to criticism for employing science ideologically to mask its (latent) social control and moral re-education functions, not unlike the faith community. This is further bolstered by a descriptive analysis of the TC's use of an exclusivistic religious outlook to re-socialize residents.
A second comparative theme is the role of the doctrine of abstinence as both method and goal. It is suggested that this is a reflection of both regimes' grounding in earlier movements for moral reform: temperance, revivalism, perfectionist utopianism, and the inebriate asylum's "moral treatment." The centrality of this "zero tolerance" rhetoric suggests the TC is no alternative to the "drug war," but a player in the prohibitionist regime. The treatment industry's abstinence-based monopoly impedes reliable alternative approaches, e.g., Harm Reduction. This further casts the TC as an ideological movement rather than a genuine medical or scientific treatment.
The concluding theme compares the effectiveness of the "modalities." Using a quasi-statistical analysis, similar completion rates (ca. 10%) are demonstrated in strict program terms, i.e., abstinence. That abstinence is not the industry's standard of evaluation for its more sanguine conclusions poses another ideological obfuscation. The claim that "treatment works" is considered the practical equivalent of the slogan "Jesus Saves."
Hood, Daniel E., "Redemption and Recovery: An Ethnographic Comparison of Two Drug Rehabilitation Programs, a Faith Community and a Therapeutic Community" (2000). CUNY Academic Works.