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Arch Psychiatr Nurs. 1998 Apr;12(2):95-106.

A restraint on restraints: the need to reconsider the use of restrictive interventions.

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  • 1University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Philadelphia 19104, USA.


Children with behavior problems are put in units with milieu therapy for the support and guidance of a specialized health care team, supposedly experts in the care of children with these unique and urgent needs. The reality of such units, however, is that those with the most contact with the children are often inadequately prepared, both in terms of knowledge and skills, to manage disruptive behaviors. As a result, the milieu that is supposed to provide support and structure can actually exacerbate the trauma for the vulnerable child. Preliminary data are presented from an ongoing study that is investigating the experiences and memories of formerly hospitalized children. Three types of traumatic experiences are described: vicarious trauma, alienation from staff, and direct trauma. Many of the traumatic events endured by child patients are the result of an inappropriate use by staff of power and force. There was a marked lack of understanding by the children of why given interventions were used. Although coercive interventions are sometimes necessary, ethical, legal, and other professional considerations make it clear that more work is needed. Research to identify the patterns of lack of knowledge and skills, as well as to develop appropriate interventions are recommended.

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