Austen Riggs Center

Name of Hospital: Austen Riggs Center

City, State/Province, Country: Stockbridge, MA, USA

Number of Stars: 5

Comment: The Austen Riggs Center helped me save my own life many times over. I was a patient at Riggs 16 years ago for 4½ months. My pre-admission interview was on my 31st birthday. I was offered an opening in their residential treatment program three weeks later. The wait seemed like an eternity at the time and caused me great anxiety but it was also an important part of my preparation for the treatment experience. Riggs often has a wait for admission that can be a few weeks long. For patients in immediate crisis, waiting for admission can be problematic. Shortly before going to Riggs, I voluntarily admitted myself to a locked psych unit for 72 hours, an experience I hope to never repeat. After the unpleasant but vitally necessary experience of being “trapped” in a locked unit, I was ready and eager to begin work as a Riggs patient learning to appropriately exercise my own authority.

I went to the Austen Riggs Center struggling to get an upper hand on bipolar disorder with suicidality for over 12 years. While I managed to graduate from college with great achievement, success later eluded me in graduate school, and I had dropped out of two different master level programs prior to going to Riggs. I had been in regular outpatient therapy and was seeing a separate psychiatrist for medications for well over 5 years prior to my admission to Riggs. My therapist described Austen Riggs as a place for “high functioning individuals” where patients learn to manage the significant problems that impede them from living a fuller life. Had I not chosen to go to Riggs, I question whether I would be alive today, or be grateful to be alive and healthy today. For me, the Riggs experience marked the start of a new beginning in my life. I am forever grateful for that opportunity.

Austen Riggs definitely did not cure me of my problems and I didn’t leave Riggs “fixed”. However I left Riggs functioning much more within acceptable parameters, with a better sense of how to confront the challenges of both my illness and life in general so that I could function out in the world more independently. It took many, many years of additional outpatient therapy and medication management to reach the healthier, more resilient state that I now feel I have earned with a lot of personally insightful work. I still see a therapist (now going on 20 years) and a psychiatrist. Riggs provided me with a safe, nurturing, dignified place to begin that process of learning how to manage my own personal authority within a therapeutic community setting where I felt held and valued as a individual.

Every member of the staff I interacted with—from the nurses to the food services personnel to the doctors to the business office staff–had a level of commitment, respect and caring for me during my treatment. Staff maintained this atmosphere of respectful caring without squelching my individual authority. This is one part of what make the Riggs open setting unique. The other aspect of the open setting is being part of a therapeutic community where respect for others (both fellow patients and staff members) is paramount to the community’s wellness. This respect for others occurs without stifling one’s ability to speak one’s mind or personal concerns. Examined living is a powerful process to experience and to engage within a relatively self-contained environment. The power of examined living readily becomes salient after discharge from Riggs upon returning to the outside world. As a patient at Riggs, one is constantly challenging and being challenged by others in this environment in a way that respects differences, healing and the primacy of individual authority. Community meetings are a big deal at Riggs. I don’t know of any other treatment programs that fully recreate the sense of environment and community like Riggs does in combination with all the services that it provides. And the Riggs program is even better today than it was 16 years ago!

Type of program (i.e. day program, inpatient): Residential treatment (open setting) and day-treatment

Any other identities/marginalizations (i.e. race/gender/sexuality) that could have influenced your stay?:

Year(s) : 2000-2001

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