How pressure is applied in shared decisions about antipsychotic medication: a conversation analytic study of psychiatric outpatient consultations

Sociol Health Illn. 2012 Jan;34(1):95-113. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2011.01363.x. Epub 2011 Aug 3.


The professional identity of psychiatry depends on it being regarded as one amongst many medical specialties and sharing ideals of good practice with other specialties, an important marker of which is the achievement of shared decision-making and avoiding a reputation for being purely agents of social control. Yet the interactions involved in trying to achieve shared decision-making are relatively unexplored in psychiatry. This study analyses audiotapes of 92 outpatient consultations involving nine consultant psychiatrists focusing on how pressure is applied in shared decisions about antipsychotic medication. Detailed conversation analysis reveals that some shared decisions are considerably more pressured than others. At one end of a spectrum of pressure are pressured shared decisions, characterised by an escalating cycle of pressure and resistance from which it is difficult to exit without someone losing face. In the middle are directed decisions, where the patient cooperates with being diplomatically steered by the psychiatrist. At the other extreme are open decisions where the patient is allowed to decide, with the psychiatrist exerting little or no pressure. Directed and open decisions occurred most frequently; pressured decisions were rarer. Patient risk did not appear to influence the degree of pressure applied in these outpatient consultations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antipsychotic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Communication
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Middle Aged
  • Outpatients / psychology*
  • Patient Participation / methods*
  • Patient Participation / psychology
  • Psychiatry / organization & administration
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy*
  • Schizophrenic Psychology
  • Sociology, Medical


  • Antipsychotic Agents