, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 61-73

The aggression-coercion cycle: Use of seclusion and restraint in a child psychiatric hospital

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The widespread use of seclusion and restraint in child psychiatric hospitals to manage aggression and noncompliance is based on the assumption that coercive consequences reduce the frequency of undesirable behaviors exhibited by the patients. We report a study of the use of seclusion and restraint in a public child psychiatric hospital during a 3-year period. Twenty-eight percent of the patients had been secluded or restrained a total of 1670 times. About 25% of these patients had been secluded more than five times during their hospitalization, and 32% had been placed in restraints more than once. Behaviors that typically resulted in repeated seclusion included physical aggression toward staff, verbal aggression toward peers, non-compliant or oppositional behavior, and self-harm. Variables that predicted patients most at risk for repeated seclusion included age, gender, and psychiatric diagnosis. The predictor variables for those most at risk for repeated restraint included age, property destruction, and self-harm. The high rates of use of seclusion and restraint suggest that these methods for controlling the behavior of children and adolescents in this child psychiatric hospital may not have been therapeutic. We suggest that staff in such hospitals engage in a pattern of behavior characterized by an aggression-coercion cycle, in which increasingly aggressive and coercive behaviors are exhibited by both patients and staff.