Therapeutic limit setting and six-month outcomes in a Veterans Affairs assertive community treatment program

Psychiatr Serv. 2004 Feb;55(2):139-44. doi: 10.1176/


Objective: This study examined the relationship of limit-setting interventions and six-month outcomes in assertive community treatment.

Methods: Case managers from 40 Veterans Affairs assertive community treatment teams at 40 different sites documented their use of 25 limit-setting activities with 1564 clients during the first six months of treatment. Five scales were constructed representing different types of limit-setting activities: withholding certain types of assistance until the client curtailed certain behaviors; behavioral contracting in which specific goals were identified and linked to reinforcers if the goals were achieved; invocation of external authorities, such as a probation officer; seeking a declaration of incompetence to manage funds or initiation of a request for a payee; and forced hospitalization through civil commitment. Structured interviews conducted at baseline and six months documented changes in clinical status and community adjustment. Multiple regression analysis was used to examine the relationship between limit-setting interventions and outcomes at both the level of the individual client and at the level of the team, adjusting for potentially confounding baseline client characteristics.

Results: All five measures of specific limit-setting activities were associated with poorer outcomes on four to six of the eight outcome measures. The site-level comparison of outcomes showed more violent behavior at sites that made more extensive use of these interventions but also greater employment.

Conclusions: After the analysis controlled for potentially confounding factors, clients exposed to limit-setting interventions had poorer outcomes than others on many measures, suggesting that within the limits of a nonexperimental study, such interventions do not appear to prevent adverse outcomes.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Case Management*
  • Community Mental Health Services*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Patient Compliance*
  • Social Control, Informal*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States
  • Veterans