Outpatient commitment and coercion in New Zealand: a matched comparison study

Int J Law Psychiatry. 2006 Mar-Apr;29(2):145-58. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2004.07.004. Epub 2006 Jan 10.


Background: It has been hypothesized that a degree of coercion is a necessary component in using outpatient commitment to attain therapeutic outcome for those people subject to mental health law. However, what degree of coercion is required and how it is sustained is poorly understood. There is speculation that patients' recognition of beneficial as well as unwanted aspects of outpatient commitment (ambivalence) maybe an indicator that the necessary level of coercion has been achieved to facilitate a therapeutic outcome.

Aim: The aim of this study was to determine the level of coercion perceived by those under outpatient commitment in New Zealand. Emphasis was given to consideration of the presence of ambivalence and the role of interactive processes, including procedural justice, in influencing patients' perceptions of coercion.

Method: A cross-sectional comparative study was undertaken to compare the perceptions of coercion of patients on outpatient commitment (n = 69) to a matched sample of voluntary outpatients (n = 69), using the Perceived Coercion Scale. The influence of a range of variables, including patients' knowledge of and beliefs concerning outpatient commitment, were considered.

Results: Although the level of coercion for involuntary outpatients was relatively low, it was significantly higher than that experienced by voluntary outpatients. Yet involuntary outpatients were more likely to espouse benefits of outpatient commitment. Although there was an inverse correlation between perceptions of procedural justice and perceived coercion, procedural justice did not feature in the linear regression analysis.

Discussion: In the New Zealand context, involuntary outpatients hold contrasting views to outpatient commitment. We suggest that this ambivalence is an indicator that the degree of coercion is suffice to achieve therapeutic outcome. Furthermore, this study suggests the impact of procedural justice on patients' perceptions of coercion may be more crucial during admission to hospital than in the context of on-going community care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Coercion*
  • Commitment of Mentally Ill / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • New Zealand
  • Time Factors