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Bioethics. 2002 Sep;16(5):439-54.

A phenomenological account of users' experiences of assertive community treatment.

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Unit for Social and Community Psychiatry, Bart's and the London School of Medicine, Queen Mary, University of London, East Ham Memorial Hospital, Shrewsbury Road, London E7 8QR, UK.


Assertive community treatment (ACT) is a widely propagated team approach to community mental health care that 'assertively' engages a subgroup of individuals with severe mental illness who continuously disengage from mental health services. It involves a number of interested parties--including clients, carers, clinicians and managers. Each operates according to perceived ethical principles related to their values, mores and principles. ACT condenses a dilemma that is common in psychiatry. ACT proffers social control whilst simultaneously holding therapeutic aspiration. The clients' perspective of this dilemma was studied in interviews with 12 clients using the 'grounded theory' approach. Results suggest that clients' disengagement is as much a historical and cultural phenomenon as a result of lack of insight. Many clients had experienced rejection of early help-seeking behaviour and all had been subject to coercive interventions. These coercive interventions were experienced as an attack on identity. All felt that their voice had not been listened to in previous interactions with psychiatric services. Consequentially the clients had an increased level of arousal around issues of power, which needs to be incorporated when examining the ethics of community psychiatry. Traditional notions of the difference between persuasion and coercion--for example--may need to be adapted for this client group. Results are compared with the provider perspective. We conclude that the perspectives differ on two key dimensions. Such an empirical approach to examining psychiatric ethics may ensure that we incorporate the subjectivities of various interested parties in the clinical decision-making process.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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