The International Peer Respite/Soteria Summit is an international group promoting the creation and sustainability of Soteria houses and Peer Respites worldwide. The Soteria Summit was started by Rethinking Psychiatry of Portland, Oregon and Mind Freedom International.
The first summit in 2021 gathered past and present staff and residents of Soteria houses and peer respites to share information and strategies for building mental health care alternatives that are safer, more cost-effective, and have better outcomes than mainstream mental health care and medical model treatment.
What are Soteria Houses?
Soteria began in 1971 in San Jose, California as a research study run by Loren Mosher. The project’s goal was to determine if time spent in a home-like environment was more helpful than hospitalization for those experiencing extreme states, often labelled as psychosis or schizophrenia, for the first time. The Soteria house provided a less restrictive setting and promoted self-expression, meaning-making, and community as primary sources of healing. Medications were avoided, though available if the resident wanted them.
At Soteria, it was expected that people would move naturally through crises when given the right environment. The approach was to ‘be with’ people rather than to ‘do to’ them. The study determined that Soteria houses are much less expensive than a hospital stay. Short-term outcomes were comparable to hospitalization and long-term outcomes were far better. Soteria houses were also found to reduce chances of harm, thanks to the lack of force used, and the creation of a community consisting of former and current residents and staff members.
Although the original Soteria house closed in the early 1980s, its philosophy on healing continues to inspire locations worldwide.
What are Peer Respites?
Peer respite centers provide a warm, non-clinical environment for people experiencing emotional distress or crisis. At respites, the focus is on genuine connections and relationships rather than impersonal models of crisis stabilization. People staying at a respite are invited to determine for themselves what they need, and peer supporters are available to help with the process 24/7. A respite allows people to stay for up to a week without the cost, restrictions, and force of hospital settings.
Respite users have complete freedom to participate in their daily lives including attending jobs or appointments. Optional resources are provided to facilitate crisis relief which can include books, art supplies, musical instruments, support groups, and community bridging to requested resources.
Comparing Soteria and Peer Respites
Soteria and peer respites are often compared or advocated for at the same time. To help communicate the similarities and differences between the two as we see them, we’ve made a couple of short lists.
Similarities Between Soteria and Peer Respites:
- Hospital alternatives for people experiencing emotional crisis
- Both provide 24-hour support
- Both use the concept of ‘being with’ and genuine relationship as primary sources of healing and care
- Both are unlocked and allow people to come and go from the residence
- Both treat mental health crises as normal and temporary human experiences rather than illnesses
- Both are completely voluntary and respect the autonomy of participants
- Both are pro-choice regarding psychiatric drugs
Differences Between Soteria and Peer Respites:
- Respites focus on short stays (usually a week or less), whereas a Soteria visit could last several months
- Respites work with a wider range of ages and emotional crises, whereas Soteria is mostly for people experiencing extreme or altered states often labelled as psychosis
- Peer respites are run for and by people with lived experience of trauma and/or mental health crises, whereas Soteria houses feature a mixture of staff who may or may not have clinical experience in traditional mental health settings