A systematic review of the evidence on service user involvement in interpersonal skills training of mental health students


J. Perry, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Plymouth University, Rm2. 7 Portland Villas, Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK, E-mail: jlperry@plymouth.ac.uk


Accessible Summary

  • • This review looks at the involvement of people who have experienced mental health difficulties in teaching mental health students communication skills.
  • • A systematic review of the English language publications from 1990–2010 was carried out using a wide range of sources including online databases such as the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), PsycINFO and MEDLINE (Ovid).
  • • The overall goal was to assess the quality of existing evidence in this area and synthesis of findings on the effect of teaching involving people who have experienced mental health problems on students' ability to communicate.

The conclusions of the review were:

  • 1Overall this type of teaching was acceptable to students and of value.
  • 2When service users teach about communication there is a move in student's practice towards improved attitudes towards people with mental health difficulties.
  • 3Some students were concerned that the people teaching them were not sufficiently representative of most people with mental health difficulties.
  • 4This type of teaching made professionals reflect more deeply on the way they communicate.

Recommendations were also made to improve future research:

  • 1Researchers should use a clear definition of what constitutes good communication.
  • 2If skill in communication is being measured tried and tested measures should be used to do this and an experimental approach should be adopted.
  • 3A mixture of methods that both measure changes in skills and behaviour and elicit peoples actual experience of this type of teaching seems to be the best way of researching this area.


Service user involvement has become a common feature of education programmes for mental health students. However, little is known about the effects of this type of education on the interpersonal skills of students taking part. This paper reports findings from a systematic review that formed part of a wider investigation into service user involvement in teaching interpersonal skills. The review aimed to locate and assess the quality of the published evidence relating to the effects of service user involvement on mental health students interpersonal skills and to synthesize results, using a definition of interpersonal skill that includes attitudes, empathy and skills as its key components. Results from this study indicate that the quality of evidence in this area is poor. However, sufficient synthesis of the evidence base was possible to allow conclusions and recommendations for both research and practice. Conclusions were that the involvement of service users in this area is both acceptable and valuable for students and had specific impacts on attitudes, empathy and skills. Some difficulties and reservations about the style of involvement are discussed. Recommendations for the conduct of future research are also made.