Look at animation 1: starting the first meeting

With reference to animation 1:

  • Is there something that you would have done differently if you were the professional in this situation? if so, what and why?
  • Take the position of each family member in the animation. Try and imagine your feelings and emotions if you were in that particular family members position.
  • Look at the scene more carefully; are you satisfied with the arrangement of the seats? If you were the professional would you change anything about the seating arrangements? Provide a justification for your answer.
  • Is there anything else you would like to change?

The first meeting and the first encounter with the family is highly important. All the participants are evaluating if they can trust each other in the meeting and the family is also evaluating the professional. Some of the questions which they might be considering are:

  • Is this professional reliable?
  • Is she/he able to help us?
  • Is she/he competent?
  • What does she/he think of this situation?
  • What does he/she think of us?

Many of these questions will be unspoken, especially if this is the first contact with the mental health services. The family might have a poor impression of the help received in previous contacts with health care professionals and they may make assumptions or have hesitations about mental health issues and mental health care in general. The family could also be very tired with the situation and they may have sought help from several other places before approaching the mental health services.

Often people with mental health problems, their families and also mental health services, are stigmatized. These services are thought of as the last resort for help. So during the first encounter, the professional represent many things to the family. Therefore it is important to make sure that you have time, you are able to concentrate, you listen actively and are able to manage different emotions of your own in order to provide support and information to the family.

It is often a good idea to work with a colleague, but this is not always possible. However, working alone should not prevent you from working with families. From a professional viewpoint, the first encounter with a family tends to involve information sharing as well as being the first step in developing a relationship with them. In addition, the first meeting seeks to establish co-operation with all family members.

From an interaction viewpoint, you should also be aware of your speech content, your facial impressions, gestures and ways of speaking. The animations give a limited variety of these, but in the literature you can find more information to enhance your own skills. You also can and should seek feedback from the family after you have worked with them for sometime and there is a safe and trustful atmosphere in your meetings which enables different kinds of "voices" as described in Open dialogue.

You can learn about different types of families at the following links:

These are things that will help you remember and use to support your understandings when working with the family.

In the following TEDtalk Tamara Taggart discusses the importance of communication and the words that we use.

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Judge, AM, Perkins, DO, Nieri, J & Penn, DL. 2005. Pathways to care in first episode psychosis: A pilot study on help-seeking precipitants and barriers to care. Journal of Mental Health 14(5), 465-469.

Kaukomaa, T, Peräkylä, A & Ruusuvuori, J. 2014. Foreshadowing a problem: Turn-opening frowns in conversation. Journal of Pragmatics 71, 132–147.

Kaukomaa, T, Peräkylä, A & Ruusuvuori J. 2015. How Listeners Use Facial Expression to Shift the Emotional Stance of the Speaker’s Utterance. Research on Language and Social Interaction 48 (3),319-341.

McCabe R, Heath C, Burns T & Priebe S. 2002. Engagement of patients with psychosis in the consultation: a conversation analytic study. British Medical Journal 325(16), 1148-51.

Morse JM, Havens GA & Wilson S.1997. The comforting interaction: developing a model of nurse-patient relationship..Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice 11(4), 321-43.

Ruusuvuori, J. 2001. Looking means listening: coordinating displays of engagement in doctor–patient interaction. Social Science & Medicine 52 (7), 1093–1108.

Stickley, T. 2011. From SOLER to SURETY for effective non-verbal communication. Nurse Education in Practice 11 (6), 395-8.

The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.