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Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2012 Feb;33(2):66-79. doi: 10.3109/01612840.2011.622428.

Nurse-patient interaction in acute adult inpatient mental health units: a review and synthesis of qualitative studies.

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University of Western Sydney, School of Nursing & Midwifery, Sydney, NSW, Australia.


Mental health nurses work with acutely unwell patients, and the busy setting is characterised by unpredictable events. This paper is a report of a review conducted to identify, analyse and synthesize research in adult acute inpatient mental health units, which focused on nurse-patient interaction. Several electronic databases were searched using relevant keywords to identify studies published from 1999-present. Qualitative studies published in English were included if they specifically investigated nurse-patient interaction in acute inpatient care in adult settings. Eighteen studies were included (23 papers). Findings were grouped into the following six categories: 1) sophisticated communication; 2) subtle discriminations; 3) managing security parameters; 4) ordinary communication; 5) reliance on colleagues; and 6) personal characteristics. These studies of acute inpatient mental health units reveal that nurse communication involves interpersonal approaches and modalities that exemplify highly developed communication and personal skills designed specifically for this challenging setting. Further quality research should focus on the conditions that enable the development of therapeutic interactional skills and the relationship of these skills to the nuanced context in which they are practiced.

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