Identification of the "minimal triangle" and other common event-to-event transitions in conflict and containment incidents

Len Bowers*, Karen James, Alan Quirk, Steven Wright, Hilary Williams, Duncan Stewart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Although individual conflict and containment events among acute psychiatric inpatients have been studied in some detail, the relationship of these events to each other has not. In particular, little is known about the temporal order of events for individual patients. This study aimed to identify the most common pathways from event to event. A sample of 522 patients was recruited from 84 acute psychiatric wards in 31 hospital locations in London and the surrounding areas during 2009–2010. Data on the order of conflict and containment events were collected for the first two weeks of admission from patients’ case notes. Event-to-event transitions were tabulated and depicted diagrammatically. Event types were tested for their most common temporal placing in sequences of events. Most conflict and containment occurs within and between events of the minimal triangle (verbal aggression, de-escalation, and PRN medication), and the majority of these event sequences conclude in no further events; a minority transition to other, more severe, events. Verbal abuse and medication refusal were more likely to start sequences of disturbed behaviour. Training in the prevention and management of violence needs to acknowledge that a gradual escalation of patient behaviour does not always occur. Verbal aggression is a critical initiator of conflict events, and requires more detailed and sustained research on optimal management and prevention strategies. Similar research is required into medication refusal by inpatients.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)514-523
Number of pages10
JournalIssues in Mental Health Nursing
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013


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