Our Treatment Model
Our treatment model is based on a holistic and humane world view. We believe every human being who is going through a crisis needs humane support, especially when it is a mental health/spiritual crisis.
Traditional psychiatric care generally views mental health crises as sickness and treats the "sick" person by isolating him/her from society and relying very much on psychiatric drugs. At Soteria we do not view mental health crises as a disease but as a natural human condition which, even when extreme, exists on the wide spectrum of the human experience. As such our treatment model does not rely on psychiatric labeling. Instead, we endeavor to get to know our residents’ unique stories. Our treatment model relies on respect, empathy, honest and open communication and community support. We have no constraints in Soteria houses, our residents stay in our care based upon complete consent, which is also the case when we think medication is necessary.
Soteria Israel was founded as an NGO in 2014. It was founded by a group of mental health professionals together with people dealing with mental distress and their family members, and led by Prof. Pesach Lichtenberg. Soteria Israel was inspired by other Soteria projects across the world, such as the original Research project which was led by psychiatrist Loren Mosher in California in 1971.
Soteria Israel was created with a goal to create a more humane alternative to mental hospitalization by opening Soteria houses that could house up to 10 residents experiencing a mental health crisis. The first attempts were focused on opening this service in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, but after a couple of years we decided to go ahead and open the first house privately. The first Soteria house in Israel was opened in Jerusalem in 2016, privately and with the support of donors. A few months later the Ministry of Health agreed to back Soteria's activity and in collaboration with Soteria Israel formulated criterias for the operation of more houses, which became known in Hebrew as "stabilizing houses".
Two years after the first house was opened, a second house was opened in Israel, and as of now (2023) there are 18 houses operating across the country; two of them are operated by Soteria Israel. In 2023, the first two houses for under-age residents were opened. Over the course of a few years, Soteria Israel succeeded in leading a much-needed change in the field of mental health treatment in Israel. However, the need is still great, and we are constantly dealing with challenges due to the serious lack in mental health funding in Israel, as well as stigmas and stereotypes still prevalent in today’s society.
The second revolution of Soteria Israel
The first change that Soteria Israel brought to Israel's mental health system relates to the power differential. In the traditional psychiatric system, the power differential between Doctor and Patient is vast. In a setting in which a person in distress faces a therapist who can decide to revoke their freedom, constrain them or force the use of medication, the sense of security is scarce and very limited healing can take place.
At Soteria, we consciously work with this power differential, by acknowledging and minimizing it as much as possible. When a stranger enters a Soteria home, it is practically impossible to make out who is a staff member and who is a resident - we all sit together, eat together, we wear no uniforms to distinguish our status and we simply share the same space. This serves as a strong and simple reminder of our basic humanity, and allows for a more supporting healing environment.
The second revolution of Soteria Israel also relates to power dynamics, not between staff and residents, but within the staff and the organization itself.
Hierarchy is deeply embedded in our society and in traditional mental health institutions. In psychiatric hospitals there is usually a clear hierarchy - the psychiatrist is the major authority, underneath him come psychologists, social workers, and the nursing staff further down the line. In a structure such as this, it is very clear who holds the knowledge, who's opinion matters, and who's opinion does not carry the same weight. There is a certain oppression inherent to this structure. At Soteria, we found that this hierarchy does not serve our work. After attempting to bridge the power differential between us and our residents, the next phase came naturally - acknowledging and bridging the differential within the staff itself.
To start with, this was very simple and intuitive - in our staff meetings, when discussing clinical approaches relating to our residents, the determining approach would not be decided upon by the person with the highest educational or professional status, but through its merit. This approach has naturally expanded to encompass different managerial decisions, and finally to transform the organization as a whole.
In 2021, Soteria's staff, management and board members took the decision to transform the organization into a soulful organization: an organization that is based upon cooperation and willing participation rather than hierarchy and discipline. In this new structure the managerial decisions are not dictated from above by a CEO, but rather made in participation with those members of staff who feel involved in the subject matter. Organizational information is fully transparent to all employees, and involvement and participation are encouraged, as well as independence.
We are still learning this new form of operation in Soteria. Not having many examples of similar structures around us, we found ourselves inventing and discovering our way as we go along. So far it is proving to be a great change for the better, which more accurately suits our organizational needs, as well as our therapeutic philosophy. We strongly believe that similar structures, of a less hierarchical nature, could better improve mental health services all around the world.