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A Phenomenological Exploration of the Experience of Participants in the Washington County Mental Health Court

15 April 2011


This phenomenological study examines the subjective experiences of Washington County Mental Health Court participants. Using an open-ended interview format and a non-hypothesis driven method, 12 participants were interviewed about their experience. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed using a phenomenological qualitative method. The responses fell into two categories relating to the design of the mental health court and participants’ individual responses to court participation. Their experience regarding the design of the mental health court revealed positive aspects such as personalized case management, access to resources, structure, increased support and contact, and accountability, as well as some negative aspects, including a perceived loss of privacy, the irony of some sanctions, and occasional questions about the treatment team’s knowledge about some mental health disorders. Participants also expressed positive and negative aspects of their own responses to the court. The positive aspects included psychological, behavioral, and relational aspects. The negative aspects included moments of increased stress, anxiety, frustration, stigma/shame, and an awareness of the experimental nature of the relatively new mental health court. The results supported previous research related to the effectiveness of mental health courts and added a qualitative richness to the current body of literature. Directions for future research include an in-depth analysis of the key mechanisms of change in order to improve the efficacy and effectiveness in current and future mental health courts.


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