“Pouring their heart out in Sainsbury’s”: qualitative study of young people’s, parents’ and mental health practitioners’ experiences of adapting to remote online mental health appointments during COVID-19

Lucy A Biddle*, Jane Derges, Bethany Cliffe, Rachael Gooberman-Hill, Myles-Jay Linton, Paul A Moran, Helen E Bould

*Corresponding author for this work

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


During the COVID-19 pandemic, technologies such as videoconferencing were used to deliver mental health appointments remotely online. For many people, this was a change from previous methods of mental healthcare receipt and delivery. We aimed to explore in-depth how practitioners, young people and parents in the UK experienced this transition.

We used qualitative methods to collect data, triangulating between free-text online survey data (n = 38), focus groups (n = 5) (3 young adult groups (total n = 11); 2 practitioner groups (total n = 7)), and semi-structured interviews (practitioners n = 8; parents n = 4). Data were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis.

Participants held mixed views about remote appointments, which were encompassed within the five themes of: home as clinic; disrupted therapeutic relationships; difficulties with engagement; uncontained risk; and scope of care provision. While appointments at home could be regarded as more comfortable, naturalistic and accessible, it was also recognised that remoteness compromised practitioner control with consequences for their ability to monitor patient engagement, manage risk and ensure confidentiality when others were present in the home. This could create an additional burden for parents as they tried to facilitate appointments but felt unsupported in this role. Relatedly, remoteness was seen to hinder interpersonal communication, formation of trust, communication of empathy and opportunities to observe body language, all of which were deemed important to building and maintaining effective therapeutic relationships. Despite this, others thought the anonymity of a remote exchange may allow earlier disclosure. There was disagreement as to whether remote provision narrowed or expanded the scope of practice.

While some had positive views of remote mental health appointments, others found them challenging. Findings highlight key areas requiring attention and mitigation in future offerings of remote provision, namely: risk management, parental burden, and problematic engagement.

Original languageEnglish
Article number641
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank all study participants for taking time to share their experiences and Esther Kissane-Webb for administrative support. This work was supported by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute, University of Bristol, UK.

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC), Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind joint funding programme under grant MR/T046716/1. The funder played no role in study design, collection or interpretation of data, or preparation of the manuscript. LB, BC and PM are partly funded by National Institute for Health Research Applied Research Collaboration West (NIHR ARC West) at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, BioMed Central Ltd., part of Springer Nature.


Dive into the research topics of '“Pouring their heart out in Sainsbury’s”: qualitative study of young people’s, parents’ and mental health practitioners’ experiences of adapting to remote online mental health appointments during COVID-19'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this