Justifying medication decisions in mental health care: Psychiatrists' accounts for treatment recommendations

Beth Angell, Galina B. Bolden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

22 Scopus citations


Psychiatric practitioners are currently encouraged to adopt a patient centered approach that emphasizes the sharing of decisions with their clients, yet recent research suggests that fully collaborative decision making is rarely actualized in practice. This paper uses the methodology of Conversation Analysis to examine how psychiatrists justify their psychiatric treatment recommendations to clients. The analysis is based on audio-recordings of interactions between clients with severe mental illnesses (such as, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, etc.) in a long-term, outpatient intensive community treatment program and their psychiatrist. Our focus is on how practitioners design their accounts (or rationales) for recommending for or against changes in medication type and dosage and the interactional deployment of these accounts. We find that psychiatrists use two different types of accounts: they tailor their recommendations to the clients' concerns and needs (. client-attentive accounts) and ground their recommendations in their professional expertise (. authority-based accounts). Even though psychiatrists have the institutional mandate to prescribe medications, we show how the use of accounts displays psychiatrists' orientation to building consensus with clients in achieving medical decisions by balancing medical authority with the sensitivity to the treatment relationship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)44-56
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


  • Accounts
  • Assertive community treatment
  • Conversation analysis
  • Medical recommendations
  • Mental health
  • Psychiatry
  • Shared decision-making
  • United States

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