The existential dimension of the experience of seclusion: a qualitative study among former psychiatric inpatients

Eva S. Trapman, Arjan W. Braam

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Seclusion is a coercive measure - temporary confinement in an almost empty, non-stimulating room in a closed psychiatric admission ward to prevent (further) urgent danger due to a mental disorder. Although there is observational research about patients’ behaviors during separation (e.g. hitting walls or doors, sleeping, or praying), research into the subjective and existential dimension of the experience of seclusion in psychiatry is rare.

Aim of the current study is to describe and analyze - using the theoretical lenses of Yalom (1980) and Jaspers (1919) - how clients experience their involuntary stay in a seclusion room in a closed psychiatric clinic in existential terms.

A qualitative study was carried out among former clients (N = 10) who were asked, in retrospect, about their existential concerns in the seclusion room. In the thematic analysis, the main, deductive codes were theory based (Yalom, Jaspers), composed of subcodes that were inductively derived from the interviews.

The respondents affirmed the ultimate existential concerns about death (e.g. sensing to be dead already), lack of freedom (e.g. loss of agency), isolation (e.g. interpersonal, not able to speak, feeling an object) and meaninglessness. With respect to the latter, the respondents reported a rich variety of spiritual experiences (both negative, such as knowing to be in hell, as positive, hearing/imagining a comforting voice or noticing/imagining a scenery of nature in the room).

Although some experiences and behaviors may conflate with symptoms of psychosis, the participants generally expressed a relief about the ability to talk about their experiences. Sharing and discussing the existential experiences fits into the paradigm of psychiatric recovery and personalized care. Their intensity was obvious and might have warranted additional support by a chaplain or spiritual counselor in mental health care settings.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number715
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2023

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