The idea was that people with psychosis and therapists would live together in a therapeutic environment and effect change without the use of medical drugs. Residents could ‘live out’ their delusions and come to terms with the early traumas which R.D. Laing saw as the root of their difficulties.
But as the documentary Asylum shows, the place was more chaos than freedom, and the residence became a stop-in for hippies, lost souls and acid dealers.
The Observer article has some of their stories:
One patient had been in a mental hospital: John Woods, I think. His label in orthodox psychiatry was paranoid schizophrenic. He had some fantasy about some young woman and he couldn’t write letters to her himself so he dictated them to me. When it turned out this woman wasn’t interested, he assumed wrongly that I was preventing her from coming to visit him. He thought I was a black magician and was controlling her. Then living in there became quite scary. There was a chapel in the building, with a huge crucifix, and he burst into my room early one morning holding it. I thought he was going to attack me with it but he wanted to exorcise me. Eventually, I did something that was against the whole ideology of the place: I tried to have him sectioned.
There are many more fascinating, if not troubling, insights to the heart of the chaos.