Some tentative thoughts on the concept of planned environment therapy

By John Cross

Date Posted: 14th June, 2012

John Cross was formerly the Executive Director of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust and one time Principal of the New Barns School. He is still very actively involved in the work of the Trust.


Some tentative thoughts on the concept of planned environment therapy


by John Cross



My own thoughts concerning the creation of a therapeutic community for children go back some sixty years, when as a young man I went to Bodenham Manor, established by David Wills. The “Paper” below was in essence a series of mainly unedited notes I made as a contribution to the thinking of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust in the late 70s, early 80s. The paper turned up when I was sorting through my old papers with a view to writing something more definitive. Arising from this I was asked whether I would agree to it being published, to which (with some misgivings) I gave my consent. Substantially, much of what I wrote then would with some refinements still hold. However, I would not for example have talked of “workers” and “clients”, and by definition when describing communities for children we are essentially tied to the concept of the living together of children and adults.

The Mission Statement of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust is “Supporting planned environments where the shared living experiences and the enormous healing and nurturing potential of both group and individual relationships are brought together for therapeutic ends”, to which I would add the Planned in the Trust’s title declares a commitment to create, enable, facilitate and optimise such environments.                                                                                                                     June 2012


The name, Planned Environment Therapy, is one which has been the subject of much discussion over many years. However, it would almost certainly be counter-productive to consider changing it at this stage – apart from considerations, legal and otherwise, that would touch upon Marjorie Franklin’s original intentions.

One such issue is centred on the suggestion that it should properly be environment rather than Environment. This in particular depends on how different people use these words – the crucial issue being that our concept is that it is not “therapy” within the planned environment, but the totality of the environment, relationships and situations, processes, structures and organization that is the therapy.

This in turn raises the issue of what in this context we mean by therapy ? Discussion of our use of the term therapy would perhaps clarify how we see Planned Environment Therapy in relation to the wider “Therapeutic Community” movement. I would suggest here for those who establish and develop therapeutic communities using the model of Planned Environment Therapy that the concept of “community” is arguably more important than that of “therapeutic.” Both terms “therapeutic” and “community’ are widely used, and for the purpose of the development of Planned Environment Therapy need to be more clearly defined. In doing this I would make a number of tentative propositions :


1.We use the term community in the sense of creating an environment where to a significant extent the members could and would be involved and share in the total life and work of the community.


  • that the adults and children in a real sense perceive and experience an equality of sharing and responsibility that is only limited by the reality of the individual’s current adequacy.
  • that this fundamentally transcends divisions within the community; between the adult and child ; professional and non-professional; between one professional and another. In this latter respect it is not enough to be multi- or inter- disciplinary; rather that on a fundamental level there is a capacity to live and work within a truly unified profession.
  • it implies a non-hierarchical structure, organisation and management, and a sharing of responsibility that embraces the whole community, and these principles need to be applied (where it is separate) to the specific management, work and organisation of a professional team.


2. The words “therapeutic” and “therapy” are ones that raise some difficulty in their usage. Paradoxically it is easier to see them as terms specifically applicable to Planned Environment Therapy by looking at them in their wider sense of “healing” and “nurture” and facilitating growth and development


  • that the “therapeutic process” lies in the “good experience” which rests upon the living in a community of a group of people who share to a significant degree their total life and work. This good experience is an end in itself. It is not solely related to specific treatment aims, but is essentially what all human beings have a right to. However, it inevitably produces more adequate, adaptable, mature and creative human beings who if they so wish can be “better” human beings.
  • “good experience” is essentially (that is, it must be the case) a good experience for the whole community, both “worker” and “client”. What nurtures, heals, develops, strengthens and fortifies the “client” does so also for the “worker”.



It may be felt from what I have written that we are describing a very simple and easily created environment which given love, intelligence and good will can be readily achieved. This, of course, is far from true. A “good enough” environment facilitating development and, where necessary, healing, occurs naturally in every good home. However, to seek to establish and develop it outside of its natural occurrence and to plan to ensure that such an environment has some optimum effect, is probably the most difficult of all “therapeutic intervention”. It calls for skill, planning, organisation and commitment, and in the true senses professionalism of the highest order.

The “planning” of the environment in Planned Environment Therapy is much more to do with creating an environment where people truly “live” as well as work, and enabling and facilitating a multiplicity of relationships and processes to evolve, change and be resolved by dynamic processes.

Another strand of my discussion has been to do with what best description might be given to the model of treatment labelled as Planned Environment Therapy. Here again the words are not obviously helpful. Certainly it would be easy for those who subscribe primarily to the “social learning” theories to see the term Planned Environment Therapy as very appropriate to their field, while the founders of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust have understood themselves as being in the psycho-dynamic , psycho-therapeutic school. I have written elsewhere that the assumed inevitable conflict between the psycho-therapeutic approach and the “social learning” theory is unnecessary.

In fact Planned Environment Therapy provides for an environment where the natural and appropriate balance in meeting different needs, for example those arising from present and past experiences, the demands and reality of unconscious processes and feelings, social and emotional experience and development can be achieved. Nevertheless, the nature of the task and the call for a high level of appropriate experience and skills of any worker who operates in an environment which has as its aims “Planned Environment Therapy”, requires knowledge, understanding and insight on some level into, for example, the nature of unconscious motivation, the phenomena of transference as it affects both worker and client.

There is another fundamental strand in the concepts of Planned Environment Therapy (and it impinges on much that I have said earlier): that is the moral, philosophical and spiritual dimension of our work. For this does provide a particular framework to our aims, practice and methods. It resolves many of the apparent contradictions and conflicts arising from different considerations in our involvement and work in the multiplicity of relationships, processes and situations that arise in a therapeutic community. It safeguards the worker and client and broadens the horizons from being mere treatment to aiding the development of a creative and positive life as being not only relevant in the present therapeutic environment, but in the entire life of all those involved.