What Is a Clubhouse?

A Clubhouse is a community intentionally organized to support individuals living with the effects of mental illness. Through participation in a Clubhouse, people are given the opportunities to rejoin the worlds of friendships, family, important work, employment, education, and to access the services and supports they may individually need. A Clubhouse is a restorative environment for people who have had their lives disrupted, and need the support of others who believe that recovery from mental illness is possible for all.


The descriptive name of “Clubhouse” was taken from the original language that was used to communicate the work and vision of the first Clubhouse, Fountain House in New York City, started in 1948. As the first community of its kind, Fountain House has served as the model for all subsequent Clubhouses that have developed around the world. Fountain House began when former patients of a New York psychiatric hospital began to meet together informally, as a kind of “club.” It was organized to be a support system for people living with mental illness, rather than as a service or a treatment program. Communities around the world that have modeled themselves after Fountain House have embraced the term “Clubhouse” because it clearly communicates the message of membership and belonging. This message is at the very heart of the Clubhouse way of working.


A Clubhouse is a membership organization, and therefore the people who come and participate are its members. Membership in a Clubhouse is open to anyone who has a history of mental illness. This idea of membership is fundamental to the Clubhouse concept, as having membership in an organization means that an individual has both shared ownership and shared responsibility for the success of that organization. To have membership in an organization means to belong, to fit in somewhere, and to have a place where you are always welcome. For a person living with the effects of mental illness, these simple things cannot be taken for granted. In fact, the reality for most people with mental illness is that they have a constant sense of not fitting in, of isolation, and rejection. Mental illness has the devastating effect of separating people from others in society.

“Mental patient,” “client,” “disabled,” “consumer,” “user” — these are the terms with which people living with mental illness are accustomed to being defined. The rest of society, then, segregates them according to these labels, and defines them by these images. The person with mental illness, then, may be seen as someone who needs something, who is someone who needs to be managed.

The Clubhouse turns this all around. Here, a person who has struggled with mental illness is seen first as a valued participant, a colleague, and someone who has something to contribute to the rest of the group. Each person is a critical part of a community engaged in important work. A Clubhouse is designed to be a place where a person with mental health problems is not a patient and is not defined by a disability label.

In a Clubhouse program, each member is given the message that he or she is welcome, wanted, needed and expected each day. The message that each member’s involvement is an important contribution to the community is a message that is communicated throughout the Clubhouse day. Staff and other members greet each person at the door of the Clubhouse each morning with a smile and words of welcome.

The daily work of the Clubhouse community, too, is organized and carried out in a way that repeatedly delivers this message. This is not difficult, because in fact the work of the Clubhouse does require the participation of the members. The design of a clubhouse engages members in every aspect of its operation, and there is always much more work than can be accomplished by the few employed staff. The skills, talents, and creative ideas and efforts of each member are needed and encouraged each day. Participation is voluntary but each member is always invited to participate in work which includes clerical duties, reception, food service, transportation management, outreach, maintenance, research, managing the employment and education programs, financial services, and much more.

Membership in a Clubhouse community gives a person living with mental illness the opportunity to share in creating successes for the community. At the same time, he or she is getting the necessary help and support to achieve individual success and satisfaction.

The Basic Components of a Clubhouse

• A Work-ordered Day

• The Employment Programs

• The Evening, Weekend and Holiday Programs

• Community Support

• Reach-out

• Education Support

• Housing

• Decision-making and Governance


Anderson, S. B. (1998). We Are Not Alone: Fountain House and the development of clubhouse culture. New York, New York, Fountain House

Beard J. H., Propst, R,& Malamud, T. (1982) The Fountain House model of psychiatric rehabilitation. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 5, 47-53. Boston, MA

ICCD, (2002) The International Standards for Clubhouse Programs . New York, New York

Vorspan, R., (1986), Attitudes and Structure in the Clubhouse Model, The Fountain House Annual, Vol. 4, New York, NY

© 2006 ICCD. All rights reserved