Posted on: 8 December 2022

Dr Alex Thomson.jpgDr Alex Thomson, a CNWL Psychiatrists based at Northwick Park,  is a co-author of No safety without emotional safety (Available online 25 November 2022 The Lancet Psychiatry).

This Personal View highlights how emotional safety is required for a person to keep themselves physically safe. We explain how trying to control behaviour to increase physical safety in the short term can carry the unintended consequence of reducing emotional safety, which might in turn result in higher levels of stress and hopelessness.

We use examples from institutions with psychiatric inpatients to describe these processes.

We argue that emotional and physical safety cannot be separated, and therefore that the absence of emotional safety compromises basic care either in an acute crisis or in the long term.

Staff who fear being criticised, and so feel driven to take autonomy and responsibility away from patients, unwittingly undermine patients' experience of being empathically understood and supported, adding to patients' sense of emotional turmoil and lack of safety.

We suggest that a change in culture and regulatory reform is required to bring psychiatric care more in line with the psychological needs of patients to achieve both physical and emotional safety.