Soteria houses are often seen as gentler alternatives to a psychiatric hospital system perceived as authoritarian, hostile/violent and based on a routine use of psychiatric (particularly antipsychotic) drugs. They are sometimes viewed as early intervention or crisis resolution services based on a supportive recovery model.
Mosher's first Soteria house specifically selected unmarried subjects between the ages of 18 and 30 who had recently been diagnosed as meeting the DSM-II criteria for schizophrenia. Staff members at the house were encouraged to treat residents as peers and to share household chores. The program was designed to create a quiet, calming environment that respected and tolerated individual differences and autonomy. There was also an ethos of shared responsibility for the running of the house and playing a part in a mutually-supportive community, with the distinction between experts and non-experts downplayed (similar to therapeutic communities). Psychotropic medication, including anti-psychotics, were not completely rejected and were used in some circumstances. The Soteria staff, compared to staff in other psychiatric services, were found to possess significantly more intuition, introversion, flexibility, and tolerance of altered states of consciousness.
The Soteria project was admired by many professionals around the world who aspired to create mental health services based on a social, as opposed to a medical, model of mental health. It was also heavily criticised as irresponsible or ineffective. The US Soteria Project closed as a clinical program in 1983 due to lack of financial support, although it became the subject of research evaluation with competing claims and analyses. Second generation US successors to the original Soteria house (called Crossing Place and McAuliffe House) also closed around that time.
A first European near-replication of the original Soteria approach was implemented in 1984 in Berne, Switzerland, on a somewhat different conceptual basis. Three Soteria-like environments focused on longer term rehabilitation were created in Sweden (Perris, 1989).
Research at Soteria Berne found that most acute schizophrenia patients can be as successfully treated as by standard hospital proceedings, but with significantly lower doses of antipsychotics and without higher daily costs. In addition, the Soteria approach appeared to offer certain advantages mainly located at the subjective-emotional, familial and social level.
In the context of increasing interest in the Soteria approach in the United Kingdom, several European countries, North America, and Australasia, a review of controlled trials suggested the Soteria paradigm yields equal, and in certain specific areas better, results in the treatment of people diagnosed with first- or second-episode schizophrenia spectrum disorders (and with considerably lower use of medication) when compared with conventional, medication-based approaches. A reevaluation of the approach was called for.