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Staff experience and understanding of working with abused women suffering from mental illness

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Abstract:

Abstract

The phenomenon of abused women with mental illness is often unrecognised by staff working within welfare services. This may be explained by staff members’ attitudes, insecurity or lack of awareness. Today, there are shortcomings in the knowledge of staff members’ experiences and interpretations of abuse against women suffering from mental illness. The aim of this qualitative study was to describe how staff members experience and understand their work with abused women suffering from mental illness. Thematic interviews were conducted with 13 staff members from various welfare services. Data were subject to content analysis. The findings showed that working with abused women was experienced as ambiguous and painful and made the staff act pragmatically. Feelings of ambiguity were mainly related to the lack of theoretical frameworks for interpreting why women with mental illness are exposed to abuse. Painful experiences involved intertwined feelings of distress, frustration, worthlessness, ambivalence and powerlessness. These were all feelings that emerged in the direct encounters with the abused women. In response to the abused women's comprehensive needs, staff members acted pragmatically, implying networking without any sanction from the leaders of the organisation, compliance with routines and taking action in here-and-now situations. By acting pragmatically, staff members could achieve concrete results through their interventions. It is concluded that staff members, working with abused women with mental illness, are in a vulnerable situation and in need of formally accepted and implemented support and legitimacy as well as theoretical knowledge regarding causes and consequences of abuse in this particular group of women.

Keywords: abused women; mental illness; qualitative study; staff attitudes

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2524.2009.00843.x

Affiliations: 1: Department of Caring Sciences and Social Work, University of Växjö, Växjö, Sweden, 2: School of Health Sciences, University of Kalmar, Kalmar, Sweden and 3: School of Social Work, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

Publication date: September 1, 2009

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