Why It Works
You alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone
Extensive research into the model used by Hearken House Ministry shows that behavioral change comes through a rigorous and extended experience of social learning in a community that models and expects honesty, humility, and personal responsibility from one another. By a process of each one helping the other, with no professionals, we solve problems such as generational poverty, illiteracy, habitual criminal behavior, lack of job skills, gang affiliation, hardcore substance abuse, homelessness, and victimization from abuse.
At Hearken House Ministry, we don’t dwell on the physiological effects of drugs on the brain or attempt to psychoanalyze why life dealt us the hand it did. Ultimately, we don’t think that matters. What really matters, simply put, is whether or not our participants are tired of the life they have and are willing to put in the very difficult work necessary to create a real, legitimate, successful, and law-abiding life going forward.
Dr. Fernando B. Perfas writes that people with destructive lifestyles — regardless of the crimes they committed or the destructive lifestyles they chose to live or their backgrounds, ages, or lifestyles – typically share many of the same challenges. We find that our participants often need help with trusting others, self-esteem, tolerance for discomfort or frustration, coping with feelings, controlling impulses, dealing with authority, interpersonal communication skills, and productivity.
However, one of the most amazing transformations of our model is when these individuals discover they have tremendous and productive strengths, which may include intellectual, artistic, musical, or athletic talents as well as a sense of humor, creativity, and leadership skills. We find that treatment is most effective when individuals' strengths are used to help them address their challenges. In the active environment of Hearken House Ministry, there are many opportunities to do this. Self-help and mutual help are a fundamental part of Hearken House Ministry's approach. Self-help refers to a person taking responsibility for his own recovery. Mutual help refers to people with a common problem helping one another. We have designed Hearken House Ministry's model to foster both processes. Responsibility is learned by taking on obligations within Hearken House Ministry as a member of the community, and by participants being expected to help each other. The abundance of group and training activities encourages the mutual help process in which residents play an active role and imparts a sense of empowerment.
Hearken House Ministry follows the Therapeutic Community model, which is consistent with behavior and social learning theories. Behavior theory holds that changing behavior can be accomplished by rewarding positive behavior. The behavior change becomes generalized to other situations when it becomes rewarded in other ways by other people. Hearken House Ministry is also an active learning environment, and much learning occurs by doing. The positive and new behavior is rewarded initially through the program and members. However, participants typically find new behaviors rewarded in many other ways as well, through the social approval of others and a sense of self-pride. The behavior then becomes established and independent of the direct rewards received by the program.
Social learning theory, as defined by famed psychologist Albert Bandura, postulates that much of human behavior is learned through the observation of role models who demonstrate desirable behavior. Research has found that when the observed behavior of role models is rewarded, it is much more likely to be imitated. At Hearken House Ministry, participants who demonstrate pro-social behavior and attitudes are put in key positions within the residency and worksites so they may serve as role models for newer members of the community. We try to take every opportunity to encourage participants to demonstrate role model behavior and to publicly reward such behavior. Maxwell Jones, an influential thought leader in the development of the Therapeutic Community model, uses the term social learning to describe interpersonal exchanges that are opportunities to become “corrective emotional experiences.” The real-world simulation our participants experience during side-by-side work, maintaining the facilities, preparing shared meals, and attending joint training inevitably recreates conflicts and problems of the past. When properly handled, these instances become “living learning situations” that allow participants to resolve important issues in their lives. According to Jones, every social interaction or crisis presented in the everyday life of our community is grain for the therapeutic mill and an opportunity for learning and changing.