Futility in the Practice of Community Psychiatry

Abstract

The experience of futility among frontline clinicians in community psychiatry is produced by the temporal structuring of their work. All health care providers share the disposition to intervene in the course of disease. Specific notions about the course of severe mental illness are woven into the mission of Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) as well as the treatment plan, a key paperwork tool used to stage daily activities. The treatment plan demands a narrative of progress that ACT workers often find impossible to supply. The gap between the ideal of progress and the realities of practice produce distinctive kinds of demoralization. Drawing from an ethnography of a single ACT team in the United States, this article explores how clinicians encounter, articulate, and attempt to resolve such experiences of futility. It explores their practical strategies to reframe the time horizons of work and thereby restore the sense of their own therapeutic power.