Introducing Narrative Practices in a Locked, Inpatient Psychiatric Unit

Introducing Narrative Practices in a Locked, Inpatient Psychiatric Unit


Lewis Mehl-Madrona, MD, PhD

Fall 2007 - Volume 11 Number 4


Introduction: Narrative approaches to psychotherapy are becoming more prevalent throughout the world. We wondered if a narrative-oriented psychotherapy group on a locked, inpatient unit, where most of the patients were present involuntarily, could be useful. The goal would be to help involuntary patients develop a coherent story about how they got to the hospital and what happened that led to their being admitted and link that to a story about what they would do after discharge that would prevent their returning to hospital in the next year.

Methods: A daily, one-hour narrative group was implemented on one of three locked adult units in a psychiatric hospital. Quality-improvement procedures were already in place for assessing outcomes by unit using the BASIS-32 (32-item Behavior and Symptom Identification Scale). Unit outcomes were compared for the four quarters before the group was started and then four months after the group had been ongoing.

Results: The unit on which the narrative group was implemented had a mean overall improvement in BASIS-32 scores of 2.8 units, compared with 1.0 unit for the other locked units combined. The results were statistically significant at the p < 0.0001 level. No differences were found between units for the four quarters prior to implementation of the intervention, and no other changes occurred during the quarter in which the group was conducted. Qualitative descriptions of the leaders’ experiences are included in this report.

Conclusions: A daily, one-hour narrative group can make a difference in a locked inpatient unit, presumably by creating cognitive structure for patients in how to understand what has happened to them. Further research is indicated in a randomized, controlled-trial format.


The Kaiser Permanente National CME Program designates this journal-based CME activity for 4 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.


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