December 1st, 2011

Farm provides alternative to typical residential facility

Gould Farm in Western, Mass., believes its few hundred acres is the perfect place for learning to cope and live with mental illness. Located among the Bay State’s bucolic Berkshire Mountains, in two short years it will turn 100 years old. And as the country’s oldest residential therapeutic community, it still does what founders William J. and Agnes Gould intended: provide psychosocial rehabilitation in a nurturing and non-institutional environment for adults age 18 and older.

What separates Gould from other residential facilities is that the “farm” in its name isn’t for decoration. In 29 houses on 650 acres, staff and guests live and work together while raising their own livestock for meat, growing and harvesting their own produce and producing their own dairy products, baked goods and maple syrup. Gould Farm even keeps its own home embers burning by heating with its own wood. Completing the sustainability circle, it has its own waste water system.

The community’s guests – and everyone who is not on staff is referred to as a “guest” – comprise people coping with conditions such as depression, bipolar and schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia. Currently, non-guests within the community range in age from six months to 72. The Goulds’s core belief when they founded the farm is still what joins the community, that emotional rehabilitation could be achieved with a gentle balance of “respectful discipline, wholesome work and unstinting kindness.”

“The approach of our program is well integrated,” says Cindy Kelly, director of marketing and outreach and who for 16 years has worked with non-profits to promote the work that they do. “Our psychiatrists, clinicians, residential advisors and work leaders work collaboratively to ensure that each guest is getting the most benefit from the program.”

Kelly works to inform families and clinicians about Gould Farm who may need help placing individuals in need of care. When a guest arrives, Kelly says they become “a vital member of the community” from the start and may work on any number of “teams.” Typically, the Forestry and Grounds Team lets guests learn the literal lay of the land as they tend woods, trails, grounds and living areas. Other teams include the Farm, Garden, Harvest Barn, Kitchen, Maintenance and the Roadside Store and Cafe Team.

In addition to their farm participation, each guest is assigned a member of Gould’s Clinical Team – a master’s-level clinician who advises them during their stay. Therapists provide one-on-one therapy, case management and life coaching throughout Gould’s strength-based recovery program. The on-site clinical staff comprises two psychiatrists, a registered nurse, a nursing assistant, a clinical director, a transitional counselor and three social workers.

“Being a productive member of the community restores confidence, builds self esteem and gives guests a feeling of belonging and inclusion,” she says. “Where we were once considered a bit backward, I believe that we are now quite cutting edge and are seeing more and more programs modeled after ours.”

After a typical nine- to 11-month stay, guests may apply to live in Gould’s Medford, Mass., residential program which Kelly says offers a different level of independence. A private-pay facility, although Gould Farm does not take insurance, families may apply for financial aid of which the farm granted more than $1 million last year.

By Jennifer E Chase

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