Little is known about the perspectives of psychiatric patients who are perceived as ‘difficult’ by clinicians. The aim of this paper is to improve understanding of the connections between patients and professionals from patients’ point of view.
A Grounded Theory study using interviews with 21 patients from 12 outpatient departments of three mental health care facilities.
Patients reported on their own difficult behaviours and their difficulties with clinicians and services. Explanations varied but could be summarized as a perceived lack of recognition. Recognition referred to being seen as a patient and a person – not just as completely ‘ill’ or as completely ‘healthy’. Also, we found that patients and professionals have very different expectations of one another, which may culminate in a difficult or ambivalent connection. In order to explicate patient’s expectations, the patient-clinician contact was described by a stage model that differentiates between three stages of contact development, and three stages of substantial treatment. According to patients, in each stage there is a therapeutic window of optimal clinician behaviour and two wider spaces below and above that may be qualified as ‘toxic’ behaviour. Possible changes in clinicians’ responses to ‘difficult’ patients were described using this model.
The incongruence of patients’ and professionals’ expectations may result in power struggles that may make professionals perceive patients as ‘difficult’. Explication of mutual expectations may be useful in such cases. The presented model gives some directions to clinicians how to do this.