Client Perspective: The Sanctuary House Program



When I moved into Sanctuary House I had suffered 6 months of intense trauma due to family issues. I needed to be in a place where I was constantly surrounded by people, people who understood and accepted that I was not well. I had a mental disorder, I was highly anxious, I was prone to depression, and yet I was still a person who up until recently had been doing fairly well, until all that trauma hit me which was more than I could deal with. Sanctuary House was exactly what I needed. The first day I moved in I felt sooooo much better!

sanctuary house

Settling In

I was initially hesitant to move into Sanctuary House. I imagined all the other clients would be hopelessly mentally deranged, with me as the only 'normal' person there. It turned out everyone else was just as 'normal' as I was. Most of us if you casually saw us on the street you'd have no idea that any of us were recovering from mental disorders and emotional traumas. All the clients were very nice. (I have repeatedly heard this comment from other clients, both then and now. The best part of Sanctuary House is the other clients.)

sanctuary house

Day Routine

Establishing a routine day/night schedule helps the body establish a steady circadian rhythm. This of course is beneficial to mental health.

  • Morning Meeting (8:30am): At the morning meeting staff asks each everyone what they are planning to do that day. The point of the morning meeting is to make sure we are all on the same page. The morning meeting also has a secondary hidden effect: it helps alleviate anxiety. By explicitly stating what you are going to do that day, your plans are all laid out, and you no longer need to worry or wonder about what you'll be doing that day. All you need to do now is follow the plan. Easy!
  • Morning Chores: Ok, I'll admit this was my least favorite part of the day. I don't want to do chores — And that's the point: I don't want to do them, but they're really not that bad, they don't take much time, and they are things I really ought to do when I'm living on my own. Chores included simple things like vacuum the rug, wash the dishes, sweep the patio or clean the bathroom mirror. These things don't take much time at all to do. Plus these simple tasks give us something useful to do, so we feel useful; it gets our body moving, always useful in the morning to get the day going; it gives us a chance to practice mindfulness; and it helps keep the house clean and tidy.
  • Groups (10:00am): We get in a van and are driven to the nearby Outpatient Mental Health Center. We usually start the day with a processing group, where we all sit in a circle and do a "Check-In." Personally I loved these groups. After the processing group we get a 15 minute break where we can go sit out front in the sun and socialize with one another. After break we'd start another group, which was usually more of a social fun time group. We'd play a game, or go for a walk, or do art. Processing groups are nice, but we don't want to be doing them all day long! We need to balance the processing groups with other lighter fun social time groups.
  • Lunch (12:30pm): Our lunch lady Carmen has been making a homemade lunch for the clients at Outpatient Center for over 20 years! Most of us eat lunch together at the lunch table. This again is a chance to socialize. After lunch we launch into more groups.
outpatient center

Evening Routine

At the end of the day, we'd all get into the van and return to Sanctuary House. Two clients would be assigned to assist the staff in preparing dinner. We'd chop vegetables, discuss various ways to cut an onion without crying, and generally we'd all have a good time together making dinner. Another client would be assigned the task of setting the table (if you don't know how to set a table, don't worry, it's all spelled out in the instructions, and there's always another friendly client or staff willing to help). When dinner was ready we'd all gather in the kitchen to serve ourselves up, then we'd take our plate to the big dining room table that seats 14 (12 of us + 2 staff), and we'd all eat dinner together.


Other Weekly Sanctuary House Activities

One day a week we'll go on a hike. We'll drive in the van to some location where the hike begins, and together we'll go walking along the trail. It's not too strenuous a hike, just a nice pleasant hike that gets us outside and into nature. Once a week we would go on an outing into the community. The first week I remember we went to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Another time we went to the Douglas Family Preserve, which is a beautiful undeveloped stretch of land near Arroyo Burro Beach. The view along the bluffs is gorgeous, offering ocean and beach views that are spectacular.

Wednesday afternoons we'd watch a DVD movie together. The movie was always something unusual and interesting, often thought provoking. We'd have a brief discussion of the movie during the intermission break, and another discussion after the movie was over.

For me it really didn't matter what we did, all that mattered was that I felt I was in a safe place surrounded by friends who understood when I wasn't feeling well, just as I understood when they weren't feeling well. Together we did things while our brains healed.



When I moved into Sanctuary House I already had a regime of medications I was taking. While at Sanctuary House the psychiatrist (Dr. Eli Katz) switched me to a better medication. The new medication was much better. I found Dr. Katz to be quite nice and very knowledgeable about the latest medications available. He would listen attentively to me while I list my l itany of complaints ("I feel crappy. Fix me."), then together we come up with a plan.


Talking with Staff

A day came when I was especially upset about what was going on with my family. The trauma that sent me to Sanctuary House wasn't resolved, and that was bothering me tremendously. I tried every trick they taught me to try and get my mind off of it—distraction, redirection, meditation, do an activity—nothing worked. I decided to ask a staff person if I could just talk to them for 10 minutes, because I was deeply troubled and couldn't get it off my mind. So the staff person sat with me and I started talking. I told him everything that was going on at home, everything that was wrong with my life, my history, my background, how I always struggled as best I could, and how I couldn't see any solution to all these problems. I ended up talking for an entire hour. And the staff person listened.

About five minutes later I returned to the staff person and said, "Why the hell do I feel better?! Nothing has changed in the last hour! The world is still the same as it was an hour ago. I still have all the same problems I had an hour ago. Yet I feel better! That's when I got it. The listening itself was the cure. That's why processing groups work. We all get a chance to say whatever is on our mind, whatever is happening in our lives, and the rest of us get to practice listening. I can help others just by being there and listening. I don't have to figure out how to fix their problems, I just have to listen to them.

talking with staff

Adding a Vocation

Just as I'm getting comfortable with this new living at Sanctuary House routine and going to groups all day, they tell me it's time for me to find a volunteer position in the community. The vocational counselor helped me find a volunteer position that was suitable for me. Volunteering gives us an opportunity to find activities we enjoy. It's also an opportunity to interact with other people in the community. Plus we're helping our community, and helping others is always a good feeling.

talking with staff

Moving Out of Sanctuary House

I liked living at Sanctuary House. Before I moved out of Sanctuary House I did spend one "practice" night at my new place. That evening I left Sanctuary House and went to my new place just to sleep. The next morning I got up and returned to Sanctuary House for breakfast. It was a test run. I seemed to be OK with it.

I was very careful to make myself a schedule full of activities to keep me busy during the week so I would be away from my new living place during the day. I ended up creating a mixture of groups at Sanctuary's Outpatient Center, groups at the Mental Health Association Fellowship Club, volunteer work, and other community activities.

After I moved out, Sanctuary had a person visit me once a week for the next 3 months to ensure I was doing OK. That person made sure I was familiar with nearby places, such as the grocery store and the nearby park which had some hiking trails. I would talk with her and tell her everything that was going on with me and how I was adjusting to my new living situation.

talking with staff