Chapter Seven - Governance and Other Reconstituting Processes






This chapter discusses the Fraser House Re-socializing Program entailing all embracing patient self-governance and law/rule making via patient-based committees.


Neville pioneered patient committees in the mental health context within Australia. Neville set up a process whereby patients and their family-friendship networks, as outpatients, were massively involved in meetings and committee work. Patients and Outpatients effectively became responsible for the total administration of Fraser House. Members of patients’ family friendship networks were required to sign on as Fraser House outpatients and to attend big and small groups, as well as to offer themselves for election to serve on committees.


Fraser House patients and outpatients progressively took on responsibility for their own democratic self-government. This is fully consistent with Neville’s exploring of epochal transition. Neville referred to patient-based rule-making as creating ‘a community system of law’ (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 4). Law evolved out of evolving Fraser House lore. The Fraser House vehicle for evolving democratic self-governance initially was a committee that decided the ground-rules for ward life called appropriately the Ward Committee. Eventually many committees were established that mirrored the roles of every section of the Unit’s administration. On every Fraser House committee, each committee member had one vote. Patients outnumbered staff on all committees. This meant that patients could always out-vote staff. This often happened. Neville set the committee ground rules such that he always had a power of veto. Dissenting people who felt strongly enough about a decision could take it before Neville and the decision would be held over till he attended the particular committee where people would present their views.


Neville said (Aug 1998) that he rarely overturned a decision made by patients where staff dissented, as by Neville’s reckoning after due consideration, the patients generally held the better stance. In Neville’s paper, ‘Sociotherapeutic Attitudes to Institutions’ and consistent with creating ‘cultural locality’ he wrote, ‘Patient committees formalize the social structure of the patients’ sub-community change’ (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 12, p. 46, 60-61). Neville being ‘dictator’ satisfied the Health Department’s requirements for top-down control. However, Neville said (July 1998) that he was a ‘benevolent dictator’ and the patients and outpatients effectively ran the place – and by all accounts, they ran it effectively.


The structures and process of the committees were being continually fine-tuned. Chapters Eight and Nine of Clark and Yeomans book (1969) contain a detailed description of the patient committees at one point in time. Diagram 9 below adapts the top-down traditional organization chart in Clark and Yeoman’s book (1969, p. 66). Neville had suggested the following diagram back in December 1993 and reaffirmed it in Sept 1998; it shows ‘patient controlled’ committees and the staff devolving their traditional roles to become healers. Neville (Dec 1993) said that his book with Clark had not made this total devolving of duties clear enough to readers. The respective roles that were devolved to the committees were psychiatrist, charge nurse, nurse, occupational therapist, social worker, and administrator; these are depicted by the darker boxes. The various committees that took on aspects of the foregoing roles are shown in the lighter boxes.  Governance processes in Fraser House were pervasively relationally formed and reformed through relational conversation (Gergen 2005).


All of the committees shown in Diagram Nine below were isomorphic with mainstream administrative cleaving; even following the Federal Government’s Parliamentary Review Committee (the Fraser House Pilot Committee) and using the term ‘Parliamentary’ Committee’.



Diagram 1. Patient committees and the staff devolving their traditional roles to become healers


This total self governance of the total administration is fully consistent with, and understandable in terms of an epochal transition model. Neville spoke (Dec 1993, Aug 1999) of three levels of governance at Fraser House – local, regional, and global. Each patient with their family-friendship network was engaged in their own local self-governance. The committee for locality-based transport – the Outpatients, Relatives and Friends Committee (discussed later in this chapter) - was engaged in ‘regional’ self-governance. The parliamentary-pilot committees, in association with the other sub-committees of the parliamentary committee were engaged in ‘global’ self-governance of the Fraser House ‘global commons’. This is a micro-model of the ‘local regional global self governance’ model that Neville detailed in his ‘On Global Reform’ paper (1974). This three-fold governance model involved everybody in a cross linking network of governance. Everyone was involved at their local level. Everyone was involved at their regional level. And they were all linked into global governance level process as a serving committee person, or being engaged by, and by interfacing with the global governance (by for example being assessed by the patient-based patient assessment committee). The committee structure was essentially bottom up with committees reporting to the parliamentary committee to keep this wider committee of committees informed.


Recall that patients were very dysfunctional fringe people. In going onto committees they could be moving in and out of their dysfunction(s) (psychosis or episodes of schizophrenia and the like). Patients did what they could, depending on the state of their being-in-the-world on the day. Neville often said (1993, 1998, 1999) that patients and outpatients were not mad and bad ‘all the way through’.


Imagine psychiatric patients returning to everyday life with finely honed practical skills in administering a complex organization having for example, over 3,000 groups a year (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 4, 50-54) (with staff groups to discuss each group) and 13,000 outpatient visits a year. This is what happened. Neville said (June 1998) that when they were back in their community and learning to interact with people at say, the counter in their local Child Endowment office, the patients typically had some understanding about how bureaucracies work (and in many ways work poorly) through personal experience of working through the challenges at Fraser House.


Committees and Balancing Governance


The Ward Committee was the first of many committees. Patients were voted on to the Ward committee by their peers and typically, readily participated. The Ward Committee membership was typically isomorphic with the ward’s mix relating to the merging of opposites. Neville said (July 1998) that typically, diabolically autocratic people served along side people who displayed extreme tolerance and passivity. Criminals often with a tough ‘no mercy’ attitude would serve with the anxious over-controlled. This was another social context for working out how to work together, and working this through created potential for all involved to catch glimpses of a metaphoric normal person somewhere in the middle.


In maintaining balance, the aim was to have equal numbers of females and males on each committee. Endeavour was made to maintain an inter-generational mix. Endeavour was also made firstly, to maintain a balance on committees between under-controlled/over-active people and over-controlled/under-active people, and secondly, to include outpatients within the various committees. At one stage their were eight patients and four outpatients on committees, that is, twice as many patients (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 2, p. 12). Also, patients were encouraged to have balance between committee work and self-healing.


Isolates were learning to re-socialize and form relationships with other patients and outpatients. The Committee work required acquiring and using a wide range of personal and interpersonal communicating skills. Participants were encouraged to recognize and respect their own needs and those of others. This is a reason why the committee work was called the ‘Re-socializing Program’.


Any person ‘hiding’ from their own change-work by being too busy in committee work soon had other patients pointing this out to them. If patients put themselves forward for elections too earlier in their stay, patients and staff alike would be suspicious of them being on a power trip or avoiding personal change work and would challenge them about this, or raise the issue in Big or Small Groups. The same thing would apply to a person seeking to serve on many committees.


Patient Administration


The other early committee was a Parliamentary Committee that grew to be a committee that governed the work of all other committees. Every member in every other committee was automatically a member of the Parliamentary Committee. The Pilot Committee was a ‘Committee of Review’ of the Parliament Committee. Within a very short time, a number of patient-run committees and work groups were set up that involved the patients themselves being actively involved in making decisions and taking actions on every aspect that normally would be the role of Fraser House administration people. Neville evolved the Fraser House committee process so that eventually the committees were taking on aspects of all of the roles normally undertaken by staff. 

The New Role for all Staff


In this devolving, staff took on the enabling/mentoring roles in respect of the patients taking over the staff’s administrative duties. This freed up all the staff including the cleaners to be also enablers and supporters of self-healing and mutual-healing by the patients and outpatients. The patients did the cleaning, with cleaners in mentoring roles. Because the cleaners were constantly present in the community during day work hours, they saw most of what was going on. Aided by this and by common agreement of patients and staff, the cleaners were the most insightful community therapists after the patients (refer the case study on an insightful cleaner in Appendix 9). This skilled therapeutic role of the patients and cleaning staff was reported in the research, writing, and other material in Neville’s collected papers (Yeomans, N. 1965a), and collaborated by interviewees.


Neville and all of the staff were entering into new territory at Fraser House. There was a climate of continual experimentation. No one outside of Fraser House had experience in the processes they were evolving either.


Flexible Rigidity


Paradoxically, through the patient and outpatient Governance Programme the Unit became increasingly flexible, although simultaneously, there was the making of tightly detailed microscopic rules. In a conversation with Neville, (13 July 1999) he stated that rules kept changing by refinement as necessary, although often a set of rules would be collectively dumped if they turned out to be non-functional. This paradoxical ‘increasing flexibility within tightly detailed microscopic rules’ mirrored Neville’s ‘non-interventionist/interventionist and uninvolved-passive/ totally involved’ leader stance. Action was a function of context. This mirrors Aboriginal way. When things flowed, the people involved engaged in the flow. When there were upsets or strife, rules would be swiftly invoked. As on the Yeomans’ farms, all action was context driven, and what aspect, of what were often polar opposites came into play, was a function of the unfolding moment. Detailed rules were there constantly as a guide to action.


Patient Treatment and Training


In a Fraser House staff handbook it was reported that patients were engaged in doing the following work:


Perhaps the most immediate observation made by a nurse coming to work in this therapeutic community for the first time, is that the patients themselves have had a great deal of authority delegated to them. Indeed, in some matters they are virtually the sole authority. At first glance it will seem fantastic that patients assess and admit new patients; review progress and institute treatment procedures; make new rules and alter old ones; mete out discipline, etc. (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol.4, p. 17).


Committees of patients prescribed community non-drug based treatment. At first this may sound a bizarre and dangerous notion. And yet all the reports in archival material and from interviews with the psychiatrist, psychologists and a senior charge nurse said the same thing - the patients quickly emerged as the most skilful in community therapy. Collectively they were way ahead of the professionally trained psychiatrist, the trainee psychiatrists, the psychologists, and ahead of the nurse therapists. According Neville, Bruen and Chilmaid none of the professional training of these groups had in any way prepared them for community therapy enabling; Fraser House became the centre for training psychiatrists in community psychiatry, with the patients as the primary source of training (Yeomans, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1998; Bruen, April 1999; Chilmaid, April 1999).


The archival material, especially the Fraser House Handbook written by patients to train new staff (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 4, p. 17-20, 50-54), and the research interviews all support the view that patients became highly skilled in carrying out their committee and other work. I have access to embargoed Fraser House records that include some of the reports of the Initial Assessment Committee. I read restricted material including case records and the patient-run Assessment Committee’s initial assessment on the same patients. It was apparent that the insights in the initial assessment were congruent with the dynamics that unfolded for particular patients. The assessments by patients read like they were written by an extremely skilled, insightful and psychosocially-emotionally wise and discerning community psychiatrist. This is consistent with the expression, ‘It takes one to know one’.


Fraser House Training


Such was Fraser House’s growing reputation in the new field of ‘community psychiatry’ that Fraser House became the place providing community mental health training in community psychiatry for students preparing to become members of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry. Students were allocated to Fraser House for six-month periods. Social worker students from both the University of Sydney and the University of NSW were also trained (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 12, p. 73). Dr William (Bill) McLeod, head of Royal Park Psychiatric Centre in Parkville, Victoria for many years told me in 2002 that in the early Eighties he used Neville as an examiner for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry.


Neville and Margaret Cockett both confirmed that they and Harry Oxley prepared a course introducing psychiatrists and also medical students to the sociology of medicine, socio-medicine and anthropology. They then began lecturing in this course through Callan House in the Leichhardt municipality. This was the first course of this type. I have been unable to track down any records of this course.


The Canteen and the Little Red Van


The idea of having a patient run canteen was first discussed by the Ward Welfare Committee in July 1960. This was reported in a Unit File Note now contained in Neville’s Collected papers (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 5, p. 30). The possibility of a canteen was raised because of the news that the Female Ward was about to open. This meant that extra funds would be needed to meet the expanding welfare needs of patients. As well, the canteen could provide snacks for the breaks between Big Groups and Small Groups.


The canteen was fully owned and controlled by the patients and the profits could be used at their discretion and by their deciding. Patients involved in running and administrating the canteen learned valuable life and social skills and response abilities/responsibilities. It provided a number of opportunities for ‘work as therapy’. It meant that patients learned responsible financial and other management skills. None of the administration money of the hospital was used. The canteen was totally set up and funded by the patients. Appendix 10 is a Case Study relating to the Canteen as work therapy.


Profits of the canteen funded the purchase of a little red van and money for related fuel and maintenance. With between 10,000 and 13,000 outpatient visits and many hundreds of guests a year, the canteen had a steady stream of customers. The van was used by the patients in their suicide and crisis call-out actions. Additionally, the patients used this van to go on domiciliary visits to ex-patients and outpatients.


In the devolving of administration to the patients in Fraser House, Neville used the patients’ involvement in administrating and organizing the Unit (and all the work that this entailed) as an opportunity for them to learn by living and surviving.  Fraser House ‘Administration Therapy’ as the name implies used ‘learning how to administer a major hospital’ as a therapeutic process. Patients and outpatients also had opportunity to learn that fault, if it be called that, was not theirs, but a part of a ‘disorganized’ and ‘conflicted’ Fraser House system. For example, the canteen was ‘delegated’ - through voting by patient and staff, and by common understanding - to those who were least able to do it (a standard Fraser House practice), though capable of learning - so everyone could support them until they could learn to do it. The canteen was a continual source of claims and counter-claims about theft and mismanagement. The mess was therapeutically valuable and this was commonly understood by all involved in Fraser House – the functional value of ‘dysfunction’. It is another example of Neville following his father’s use of opposites and reversals. 


The Domiciliary Care Committee and Domiciliary Care


Fraser House pioneered home visits and domiciliary care by psychiatric nurses and patients. A Fraser House monograph reports that follow-up groups to homes became routine in 1962 (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 4, p. 2-4). Patients, who had substantially changed to being psychosocially functional, and had been assessed as being proficient as co-therapists, and were anticipating leaving the hospital themselves, would call on ex-patients and their families and friends to assist and resolve difficulties (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 5, p. 63). Members of the Domiciliary Care Committee started to do domiciliary visits on ex-patients and outpatients, and to go on suicide crisis calls into the community often late at night (Clark 1969, p. 69-70).


Neville wrote that these patients involved in domiciliary care work and crisis support were very skilled and helped ‘to destroy the lunatic image that often some of these disturbed relatives have of the hospital and other patients in it’ (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 5, p. 106). Participating in Domiciliary Care was not time based - ‘so many months prior to leaving’ - rather ‘psychosocial health and competency’ based.  Fraser House, patients were helping ex-patients settle back into the community before they became ex-patients themselves.


The little red van was also used for this domiciliary care with fuel costs again born by the canteen. A group of patients would often go, without staff, on these domiciliary visits. The Follow-up Committee would also be continually requesting the visitors, relatives and friends for patients to be able to use their cars and petrol to conduct domiciliary visits (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 5, p. 63). After a time it was decided to keep activity records and during the first nine weeks of activity recording (1 July 1963 to 6 Sept 1963) there were 71 group activities to homes. The average was just under 8 visits per week with a range of 5 to 12 per week.


Appendix 11 contains a copy of a letter drafted by resident members of the Parliamentary Committee as an aid to increasing involvement in Fraser House by family and friends. Neville placed a copy of this letter in his collected papers in the Mitchell Library (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 2, p. 11). The letter was sent by the patient who was the president of the peak committee. The inclusiveness of community therapy is conveyed in the fifth paragraph. It states that support was readily available, ‘by a group of patients’. They would come and visit friends and relatives in their own red van.


Aspects of this domiciliary care have been adopted into mental health practice with staff doing the visits. An early example modelled on Fraser House was the Domiciliary Care Program at Kenmore Mental Hospital in Goulburn (Mitchell 1964).


Crisis Support


The domiciliary care outreach was resonant with and an extension of the Fraser House practice of providing suicide and other crisis support. From the outset of Fraser House, a Suicide Clinic was set up as an aspect of the Unit. This may have been an Australian first. Neville obtained a lot of media attention about the role of this Clinic (refer Appendix 12).


In evolving support for suicidal people Fraser House adopted the process of having patients and staff constantly around potential suiciders as a support and crisis intervention group so that suicidal people were never left alone. Patients would be co-opted as therapeutic enablers and patients could and did take on the role of being caring support for other patients, especially those in danger of self-harm. Any person who was in a heightened emotional state, disturbed or suicidal would be immediately ‘specialed’. Processes were set up such that a cooperating team of patients, with or without staff, would take on the responsibility of providing twenty-four hour support to other patients at risk of suiciding, and in the process this support team would gain response ability. This meant that two patients, or a patient and a staff member, would continually stay awake with that person around the clock (and be replaced by another shift if necessary) until, on the say of a group, the ‘specialed’ status was removed.


This idea of setting up support processes for suicidals was subsequently used elsewhere in the wider society and has since become a standard practice in mental health services. However, outside of Fraser House, I understand only staff are used in the support process. In Fraser House ‘Special Groups’ could be called at any time whenever a crisis occurred. These groups would last as long as required to ‘do the job’. 


Fraser House became known in Sydney as the place to call for suicide support. Requests for help with potential suiciders came from all over Sydney. Fraser House may well have been the primary source of Australia’s suicide telephone help lines. Neville had started to give a constant stream of talks to churches and other agencies as part of his linking of Fraser House into the community and ensuring the Unit’s survival. Typically, five patients would support each other in making visits to potential suiciders on a twenty-four hour call-out basis. They would travel in the little red van.


Often Fraser House would receive a call from residents near The Gap – a place often used by Sydney’s suiciders who would jump off cliffs on to rocks far below. Once these residents knew of Fraser House Suicide Outreach, they would phone Fraser House for assistance whenever they spotted or heard a potential suicider. Patients alone or with nurses would go from North Ryde over to the Gap at all hours of the day and night to talk suicidals into come off the edge. A potential suicider would suddenly be approached by five mental patients who were very skilled in therapeutic social intercourse. The Gap has very high cliffs looking out on the Pacific. This makes rescue and crisis counselling all the more precarious and potentially life threatening for the counsellor(s). Even if a person decided to return to safety, they could be so distressed, the climb back may be dangerous, especially in rainy and windy weather.

Photo 1 Sheer Cliffs at the Gap(Lloyd 2005)


Fraser House patients had an excellent track record in getting potential suiciders to come back with them to Fraser House. This having patients seeing their Fraser House therapeutic community having wider community relevance, and seeing their own healing ways and their peers as significant to themselves and others, was yet another element of the Fraser House healing process.




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Photo 2 Watson’s Bay Topography - compile made by me from photos taken by tourist and sent to me October 2005 – used with permission


Neville used locality strategically. Photo 2 reveals Watsons Bay’s topography. The Watsons Bay Festival was in the park (The green area in the centre right of the photo). The park is located in a primary valley below the main ridge and between two primary ridges. The festival focal point was at a Keypoint in the primary valley. The festival’s Keypoint theme was ‘celebrating life”. Neville intentionally placed this celebration of life sixty metres below where Sydneysiders go to suicide at The Gap. The bus in the photo is parked where the Fraser House little red bus used to park two years earlier when the Fraser House patients made crisis calls to stop suiciders.


Neville began speaking at Ted Noff’s Wayside Chapel at Kings Cross in Sydney and at other places. Neville told Noff that Fraser House could not continue carrying the travel costs related to suicide support. Neville invited the churches and other agencies to take over the suicide help line. This is consistent with taking Fraser House into wider society. The Wayside Chapel started a helpline. The telephone emergency service ‘Lifeline’ was set up by the Methodist Central Mission in Sydney in 1963 (Bootes 1978); this evolving of telephone emergency services was confirmed by Neville and Bruen in April 1999.


The Outpatients, Relatives and Friends Committee


As a core aspect of regional governance, shared travel was fostered by a committee called the ‘Outpatients, Relatives and Friends Committee’, one of the patient-run committees under the Fraser House Governance Therapy/Re-socialising Program. This Committee would arrange the matching up of outpatient attendees at Big and Small Groups to maximize car-pooling and people travelling together for making of friendship bonds. Often people with very small family friendship networks and poor social skills would be voted on to the Outpatients, Relatives and Friends Committee to provide experience in social interaction. This was a major process for extending functional family-friend networks for patients prior to their leaving Fraser House.


Neville said (Oct 1998) that as a consequence, these visitors and their associated Fraser House patient(s) tended to obtain through their involvement in Fraser House, a completely revised and extended functional suburban friendship/support network composed typically, of up to seventy people who they met through Fraser House. Recall that typically, patients arrived at Fraser house having from two to six dysfunctional members of their family and ‘friends’ in their lives. Some who had jobs had a workmate or two that they had some social contact with.


Constituting Rules and Constitutions


In involving patients and outpatients in self governance, Neville had them devise their own document entitled, ‘Patient’s Rules for Committees’ (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 2, p. 6-12). Neville sent a letter of congratulations to patients and outpatients on 17 Jan 1963 when they produced this document, giving them ‘100% for effort’ (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 2, p. 13). I found Neville was superb in giving recognition. A monograph prepared by patients and outpatients was, ‘The Constitution of the Fraser House Relatives and Friends Group’ (Yeomans, N. 1965a, Vol. 2, p. 50-60). Patients and outpatients in other committees devised their own constitution. All of this was, for Neville, part of the community’s creating a social system of law for the Unit from within the lore of their own constituting. This is another glimpse of Neville modelling epochal shift through social re-constituting.


Appendix 13 outlines all the various patient committees at a particular point in time, and provides a sense of the comprehensive breadth of committee action. Committees were constantly being reviewed and/or changed, including which staff function was devolved to which committee, the roles of each committee, the membership of each committee, including membership criteria, the split between in-patient and outpatient membership, and the staff present at each committee meeting.




This Chapter has discussed the Unit’s milieu as a therapeutic community. Patient self-governance and law/rule making via patient committees were outlined. In the Fraser House Governance Therapy, Neville was evolving praxis towards folk community reconstituting their local lore and law as a model of this vital aspect of reconstituting collapsed societies and evolving folk based transitions towards a caring new epoch (Yeomans, N. 1971c; Yeomans 1974; Yeomans and Spencer 1999). The next chapter explores Neville’s evolving and use of whole community Big Meetings.