The Argyle Institute History

The Argyle institute of Human Relations began in 1982 with the initiative of some of the members of the oldest mental health institution in Montreal, The Mental Hygiene Institute (MHI). The MHI movement was where mental health work began in North America, and Montreal was privileged to have had one. Before formalized psychiatry and other forms of psychotherapy had begun, MHI’s were the creation of concerned parents of the mentally disturbed and Medical Doctors who were also looking for solutions for their patients.

By 1945 psychiatry was being started at McGill and an understanding was reached that McGill would deal with the more severe disorders, and the MHI would work in preventative mental health. From that point forward there was a collaboration between the two institutions and The MHI was even housed in McGill buildings. From the efforts of the MHI came the first marital and family work done in Canada as well as the first Canadian center to be approved in training marital and family therapists, the first family life education courses, a child observational nursery program, and a research department. As well, McGill psychiatry residents did rotations there and were given an exposure to the MHI’s community efforts. The MHI’s work was largely funded by Centraide, and was guided by a board of well-known Montrealers who wanted to help the cause of community mental health.

The MHI did its work so well, that in 1980 the Quebec government decided that it would incorporate it into its existing services and the newly formed CLSC’s. At that point its worker’s salaries were taken over by the government, and their charter and charitable status were surrendered.

Some of the workers involved were apprehensive that the Government would only stress clinical work and that the other teaching and outreach programs would be sacrificed. And so, the Argyle was formed to reconstitute the efforts of the old MHI. After a year of planning, The Argyle Institute of Human Relations was launched in 1982 with a new charter and charitable status.

One of the leading lights in the new organization was Leticia Cox, Family Life Educator and Counsellor, who undertook to carry forward the work of training marital and family therapists at the Argyle that was begun at the Montreal Hygiene Institute. From the start the Argyle was a success. With a training program that qualified for American Association of Marriage and family Therapy recognition, programs for the public in mental health, and conferences for mental health professionals, the Argyle was quickly seen as a vibrant resource for the community.

From that starting point in 1982 the Argyle has grown in its membership of volunteers, mostly coming from graduates of their training programs. In addition to their initial marital and family work, they added an individual psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy program, a multilingual public clinic that works on a very reasonable sliding fee scale and presently works with almost 1200 people per year, a group that studied multicultural issues, an eating disorder clinic, a caregiver program that supports workers in difficult situations, and they are presently exploring the possibilities of having a child training program that would allow them to offer direct help to children and adolescents.

They have trained more than 600 post masters level therapists who have recognized the benefits of getting further training in psychotherapy beyond what their University level programs had prepared them for. During the last decade, the McGill connection has been revitalized since the Argyle Institute has also become an Internship site for McGill University Masters and Doctoral students in the Counselling Psychology Department and the Social Work department. As well it has become an accredited Internship site for Doctoral students in Psychology at Sherbrooke University, Université du Québec à Montréal, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, and Concordia University.

Almost all of their work was done with very little financial donation, and no government or university contribution, as had been available for the old MHI.

From their original home on Peel Street mansion, given to them rent free from McGill, they have had to find rental spaces within the community. Times have changed, and they can no longer rely solely on their internal membership for financial support. They have therefore started an active fundraising program that will hopefully provide them with resources that will enable them to grow with the community’s growing mental health needs.