The first Odyssey House opened in New York in the United States in 1966 as a residential rehabilitation program for people with a drug and alcohol addiction. The original program philosophy and treatment approach is described by Densen-Gerber (1973), who later brought the Odyssey House Therapeutic Community model to Australia, together with Milton Luger. Emerging from social psychiatry, the program views problematic alcohol and other drug use as a symptom of other underlying issues, and combines peer support by others in recovery with medical and psychological expertise.
Central to the Odyssey philosophy was the conviction that a new, drug-free lifestyle could be created through self-discovery, behavioural change and new relationships, and that this could be achieved within a supportive residential community environment founded on mutual respect and responsibility.
Odyssey House came to Australia in 1977, when Walter McGrath, whose son James died at the age of eighteen from a heroin overdose, established the James McGrath Foundation and sought help to establish a therapeutic community at Campbelltown, New South Wales.
The following year, a group of concerned Melbourne citizens and parents established the James McGrath Foundation in Melbourne and in 1979 Melbourne’s Odyssey House opened in an ex-Salvation Army Hostel opposite St Vincent’s Hospital. After a brief move to Millgrove near Warburton, the community settled into its present home in July 1980, a former Roman Catholic Monastery in Lower Plenty. Built in 1952 and set in eighteen hectares of rolling farmland and bush by a bend in the Yarra River, the purchase was made possible by the determination of the initial board, and fundraising and community support, despite some opposition from local residents.
Not long after Odyssey House was established, a city based “shopfront” was established in Prahran as the admission point for clients entering the therapeutic community, also providing a small range of community based services. Over time, the number of funded residential beds has increased at Lower Plenty, and other new residential facilities have also been established.
Together with partner organisations, Odyssey’s Community Services have grown significantly across metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria. They now provide a broad range of counselling, support, withdrawal and outreach programs to people of all ages affected by drug and alcohol addiction.
The Odyssey Institute, a Registered Training Organisation, provides face-to-face and online accredited training and other short courses that focus on drug and alcohol and mental health skills, to clients, community members, and professional staff across Australia.