Beyond neutrality: professionals’ responses to clients’ indirect complaints in a Therapeutic Community for people with a diagnosis of mental illness

2015-10-12T13:34:12Z (GMT) by Marco Pino Luigina Mortari
Previous research has evidenced that in different institutional settings professionals are cautious when responding to clients’ indirect complaints and tend to avoid siding either with the clients/ complainants or the complained-of absent parties. In this article we use the method of Conversation Analysis to explore professional responses to clients’ indirect complaints in the context of a Therapeutic Community (TC) for people with diagnoses of mental illness in Italy. Although the TC staff members sometimes display a neutral orientation toward the clients’ complaints, as is the case in other institutional settings, in some instances they take a stance toward the clients’ complaints, either by distancing themselves or by overtly disaffiliating from them. We argue that these practices reflect the particular challenges of an institutional setting in which professionals engage with clients on a daily basis, have an institutional mandate of watching over them and are responsible for their safety. According to this interpretation, staff members’ nonneutrality toward clients’ complaints can be seen as a way of defending against the possibility, raised by the clients’ reports, that the staff members might be involved, albeit indirectly, in courses of action that have harmed or might harm the clients.