Mental health patients' experiences of being misunderstood

Laura M. Gaillard, Mona M. Shattell, Sandra P. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Mental health patients describe "being understood" as an experience that evokes feelings of importance, worthiness, and empowerment. However, the experience of "being misunderstood" is more prevalent in patients' relationships with health care providers. Negative consequences such as vulnerability, dehumanization, and frustration reveal that being misunderstood has the potential to damage or destroy therapeutic relationships. OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this secondary analysis was to examine mental health patients' experiences of being misunderstood. STUDY DESIGN: Data consisted of transcripts from 20 interviews with community-dwelling adults with mental illness, which were analyzed using an existential phenomenological approach. RESULTS: Four figural themes expressed the experiences of being misunderstood: protection from vulnerability, an object to be fixed, treated like a child, and relentless frustration. CONCLUSIONS: Nurses and other caregivers can use the findings of this study to promote understanding, strengthen therapeutic relationships, and improve the quality of mental health care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-199
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Brief
  • Patient satisfaction
  • Psychotherapy
  • Relationships
  • Roles
  • Staff issues

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Phychiatric Mental Health

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