‘Like a human being, I was an equal, I wasn’t just a patient’: Service users’ perspectives on their experiences of relationships with staff in mental health services

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives. The quality of therapeutic relationships in psychiatric services has a
significant impact upon the therapeutic outcomes for people diagnosed with a severe mental illness. As previous work has not explicitly explored service users’ in-depth views about the emotional impact of these relationships, the objective of this work was to bring this perspective to the fore and to gain a greater understanding about which relational components can lead to psychological change.
Design. The project was conducted alongside a service user organization. An interview design was used to qualitatively explore service users’ experiences and perceptions of their relationships with mental health practitioners.
Methods. Eight individuals who had experience of the mental health system in the United Kingdom were interviewed. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was used to analyse the data.
Findings. Three superordinate themes emerged from the analysis. These were (1)
Trying to survive: am I a person or just an object in the system?; (2) Traumatic experiences within relationships; and (3) Helpful and transformative relationships. Further, the key transformative components of these relationships were power, safety, and identity.
Conclusions. Mental health services should be more focused upon care, rather than control. The Power Safety Identity (PSI) model, a reflexive model based upon key relational components highlighted by participants, is proposed for services and professionals to consider their work. The components of this model are managed by mental health practitioners and can determine whether these relationships maintain, increase, or alleviate psychological distress.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice
Early online date5 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019