Mental Health Patients' Experiences of Being Misunderstood

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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.


The purpose of this secondary analysis was to examine mental health patients' experiences of being misunderstood.


Data consisted of transcripts from 20 interviews with community-dwelling adults with mental illness, which were analyzed using an existential phenomenological approach.


Four figural themes expressed the experiences of being misunderstood: protection from vulnerability, an object to be fixed, treated like a child, and relentless frustration.


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.J Am Psychiatr Nurses Assoc, 2009; 15(3), 191-199. DOI: 10.1177/1078390309336932

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