Assessing Risk and Prioritizing Referral for Self-Harm: When and Why is my Judgement Different from Yours?

Shanna Cahill, Tim Rakow*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


This study investigated individual differences in the use of risk factors when making risk assessments for self-harm. Clinical judgement analysis using 35 hypothetical case scenarios was used to determine how case characteristics influence risk assessment for self-harm by mental health professionals. Seven practitioners made four risk/priority assessment judgements for each case, and individual models of judgement for risk and priority were constructed by regressing 10 case variables onto these sets of judgements. All but two of the variables (potential risk factors) examined were related to risk and/or priority judgements. Risk assessors applied cues to make assessments consistently-broadly consistent with practice guidelines-although precise cue application varied between professionals. The findings demonstrate the potential for ambiguity in risk assessment (terms such as 'low' or 'high' risk had variable interpretation) and that it can be important to specify whether risk is to be assessed for the initiation, continuation, re-occurrence, or escalation of an event or condition. The study shows the importance of clear practice guidelines (not all risk factors were used as might be anticipated from practice guidelines) and illustrates how clinical judgement analysis can be used to understand and enhance the reliability of professional judgement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-410
Number of pages12
JournalClinical Psychology and Psychotherapy
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012


  • Clinical Judgement Analysis
  • Practice Guidelines
  • Risk Assessment
  • Self-harm

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