Towards a critical theory of mental health nursing


  • John Hopton RMN RGN RCNT Cert Counselling MA RNT

    Corresponding author
    1. Lecturer in Applied Social Studies, School of Social Work, University of Manchester and part-time post-graduate research student, Centre for Studies in Crime and Social Justice, Edge Hill University College, Ormskirk, England
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John Hopton, 64 Peveril Close, Whitefield, Manchester M45 6NR, England.


Towards a critical theory of mental health nursing In this paper, the author argues that, despite the self-image of the mental health nursing profession as innovative, radical and progressive, this is a‘false consciousness’. Mental health nursing is deeply immersed in a crisis of legitimacy which dates from, at least, the publication of Russell Barton's Institutional Neurosis in 1959. However, although mental health nurses responded positively to the insights of Russell Barton, they failed to respond directly to the dissenting voices of the anti-psychiatrists or the damning criticisms of various official inquiries into care in various individual psychiatric hospitals during the 1970s. Instead mental health nursing has uncritically embraced humanistic psychology and vaingloriously promoted a false image of mental health nursing which suggests that it has wholeheartedly embraced sensitive user-centred approaches to care. However, the author suggests that, despite superficial similarities between person-centred psychology and the theories of the anti-psychiatrists, mental health nursing can never develop truly liberating approaches to care unless it widens its focus from purely interpersonal relationships and addresses historical, structural and ideological influences on both mental health services and the causation of mental distress.