Deakin University

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'She's manipulative and he's right off': a critical analysis of psychiatric nurses' oral and written language in the acute inpatient setting

journal contribution
posted on 2006-06-01, 00:00 authored by B Hamilton, Elizabeth ManiasElizabeth Manias
Remarks such as 'she's manipulative' and 'he's right off' are familiar to psychiatric nurses. This paper critiques the language nurses use in acute inpatient psychiatry services, highlighting the diverse discourses implicated in nurses' writing and speaking about patients. Based on a review of the literature, this paper examines ethnographic studies and discourse analyses of psychiatric nurses' oral and written language. A prominent debate in the literature surrounds nurses' use of standardized language, which is the use of set terms for symptoms and nursing activities. This review of spoken descriptions of patients highlights nurses' use of informal and local descriptions, incorporating elements of moral judgement, common sense language and empathy. Research into written accounts in patient files and records show nurses' use of objectifying language, the dominance of medicine and the emergence of the language of bureaucracy in health services. Challenges to the language of psychiatry and psychiatric nursing arise from fields as diverse as bioscience, humanism and social theory. Authors who focus on the relationship between language, power and the discipline of nursing disagree in regard to their analysis of particular language as a constructive exercise of power by nurses. Thus, particular language is in some instances endorsed and in other instances censured, by nurses in research and practice. In this paper, a Foucauldian analysis provides further critique of taken-for-granted practices of speech and writing. Rather than censoring language, we recommend that nurses, researchers and educators attend to nurses' everyday language and explore what it produces for nurses, patients and society.



International journal of mental health nursing






84 - 92




Chichester, Eng.





Publication classification

C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2006, Australian and New Zealand College of Mental Health Nurses