Why the evidence for outpatient commitment is good enough

Psychiatr Serv. 2014 Jun 1;65(6):808-11. doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201300424.


After nearly three decades of studies evaluating the legal practice of involuntary outpatient commitment, there is yet little consensus about its effectiveness and only limited implementation. Debate continues over how best to assist adults with serious mental illnesses who are unable or unwilling to participate in prescribed community treatment and as a result experience repeated involuntary hospitalizations or involvement with the criminal justice system. The authors comment on the Oxford Community Treatment Order Evaluation Trial (OCTET), a recently conducted randomized trial of outpatient commitment, and discuss the limitations of the study's design for resolving the persistent question of whether compulsory treatment is more effective than purely voluntary treatment for this difficult-to-reach target population. The authors conclude that the search for a definitive and generalizable randomized trial of outpatient commitment may be a quixotic quest; the field should, rather, welcome the results of well-conducted, large-scale, quasi-experimental and naturalistic studies with rigorous multivariable statistical controls.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Ambulatory Care / methods*
  • Commitment of Mentally Ill*
  • Community Mental Health Services / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Community Mental Health Services / methods*
  • Evidence-Based Practice*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic