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Psychiatr Serv. 1998 Jul;49(7):941-5.

Clinicians' decision making about involuntary commitment.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, USA.



Clinicians' decision making about involuntary commitment was examined, with a focus on the effects of patient and clinician characteristics and bed availability on decisions to detain patients, the first step in involuntary commitment.


Eighteen psychologists and social workers in the emergency service of a community mental health center completed the Risk Assessment Questionnaire for 169 consecutive patients they deemed to present some degree of risk. Forty-two patients were detained.


Three underlying constructs were significantly associated with a patient's overall risk rating, which in turn predicted the decision to detain. Two were clinician characteristics: the clinician detention ratio, which reflects the proportion of patients detained by the clinician in the past three months, and the setting in which the evaluation occurred, either an in-house emergency service or a mobile crisis unit. The availability of detention beds in the community was also a significant predictor of whether a patient would be detained. No patient characteristic, including diagnosis, sex, age, or insurance status, was significantly related to the detention decision.


The findings suggest that the decision-making process is influenced by multiple factors, such as setting, the clinician's tendency to detain patients, and the availability of detention beds.

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