Managerial reforms and specialised psychiatric care: a study of resistive practices performed by mental health practitioners


Address for correspondence: Sirpa Saario, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Tampere, Tampere 33014, Finland


Throughout Western Europe, psychiatric care has been subjected to ‘modernisation’ by the implementation of various managerial reforms in order to achieve improved mental health services. This paper examines how practitioners resist specific managerial reforms introduced in Finnish outpatient clinics and a child psychiatry clinic. The empirical study involves documentary research and semi-structured interviews with doctors, psychologists, nurses and social workers. The analysis draws on notions of Foucault’s conception of resistance as subtle strategies. Three forms of professional resistance are outlined: dismissive responses to clinical guidelines; a critical stance towards new managerial models; and improvised use of newly introduced information and communications technologies (ICTs). Resistance manifests itself as moderate modifications of practice, since more explicit opposition would challenge the managerial rhetoric of psychiatric care which is promoted in terms of positive connotations of client-centredness, users’ rights, and the quality of the care. Therefore, instead of strongly challenging managerial reforms, practitioners keep them ‘alive’ and ongoing by continuously improvising, criticising and dismissing reforms’ non-functional features. In conclusion it is suggested that managerial reforms in psychiatric care can only be implemented successfully if frontline practitioners themselves modify and translate them into clinical practice. The reconciliation between this task and practitioners’ therapeutic orientation is proposed for further study.