Psychosocial care in mental health nursing: a think aloud study


P. MacNeela: e-mail:


macneela p., clinton g., place c., scott a., treacy p., hyde a. & dowd h. (2010) Psychosocial care in mental health nursing: a think aloud study. Journal of Advanced Nursing66(6), 1297–1307.


Title. Psychosocial care in mental health nursing: a think aloud study.

Aim.  This paper is a report of a study identifying psychosocial interventions relevant to routine care and exploring their content critically and analysing patterns in the use of these interventions.

Background.  People experiencing enduring and serious mental disorders value psychosocial engagement as a means of achieving recovery and rehabilitation. However, mental health nurses’ use of person-centred and directive psychosocial engagement in routine care is unclear, with the potential arising for benevolence and paternalism.

Method.  A think aloud study was carried out with 37 mental health nurses responding to a simulated case depicting a person with an enduring mental health problem. Participants were recruited from community and acute hospital facilities across Ireland and responded to two tasks: identifying the nature of the person’s problems and recommending what to do next. Transcripts were coded using judgement and intervention themes designed for the purpose. Patterns in the use of psychosocial intervention themes were described and further analysed by level of experience (highly experienced or not) and practice setting (acute/community setting).

Findings.  A task-oriented psychosocial intervention labelled structured engagement was used extensively, followed by reassurance and encouragement based on pragmatic communication. A minority of nurses used dialogue, representing person-centred care. Highly experienced community mental health nurses were the most likely to talk in terms of intensive psychosocial engagement.

Conclusion.  Relying on pragmatic problem-solving is problematic in terms of decision-making transparency and service user involvement. The use of informal knowledge in practice should be negotiated through more open discussion by nurses, including adoption of a consensus on the components of psychosocial care.