Persuasion or coercion? An empirical ethics analysis about the use of influence strategies in mental health community care

Emanuele Valenti*, Domenico Giacco

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
72 Downloads (Pure)


Influence strategies such as persuasion and interpersonal leverage are used in mental health care to influence patient behaviour and improve treatment adherence. One ethical concern about using such strategies is that they may constitute coercive behaviour ("informal coercion") and negatively impact patient satisfaction and the quality of care. However, some influence strategies may affect patients' perceptions, so an umbrella definition of “informal coercion” may be unsatisfactory. Furthermore, previous research indicates that professionals also perceive dissonance between theoretical explanations of informal coercion and their behaviours in clinical practice. This study analysed mental health professionals’ (MHPs) views and the perceived ethical implications of influence strategies in community care.

Qualitative secondary data analysis of a focus group study was used to explore the conflict between theoretical definitions and MHPs’ experiences concerning the coerciveness of influence strategies. Thirty-six focus groups were conducted in the main study, with 227 MHPs from nine countries participating.

The findings indicate that not all the influence strategies discussed with participants can be defined as “informal coercion”, but they become coercive when they imply the use of a lever, have the format of a conditional offer and when the therapeutic proposal is not a patient’s free choice but is driven by professionals. MHPs are rarely aware of these tensions within their everyday practice; consequently, it is possible that coercive practices are inadvertently being used, with no standard regarding their application. Our findings suggest that levers and the type of leverage used in communications with the patient are also relevant to differentiating leveraged and non-leveraged influence.

Our findings may help mental health professionals working in community care to identify and discuss influence strategies that may lead to unintended coercive practices.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1273
Number of pages15
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This article was supported in part by the ‘Balancing Best Interests in Health Care, Ethics and Law (BABEL)’ Collaborative Award from the Wellcome Trust [209841/Z/17/Z]. The funding body played no role in the writing of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Coercion
  • Autonomy
  • Leverage
  • Influence


Dive into the research topics of 'Persuasion or coercion? An empirical ethics analysis about the use of influence strategies in mental health community care'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this