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3An involuntary treatment order (ITO) allows a person to be treated for a mental illness without consent under some circumstances. While the treatment and assessment of mental illness are essentially clinical decisions, involuntary mental health admissions are governed by a framework of legal principles, safeguards and procedures. The underlying philosophy of these laws is based on therapeutic jurisprudence. This approach focuses on the importance of the legal process as a social force and suggests that this can either protect or empower people. The legal processes can however adversely impact upon people's states of mind. This study reports on 25 qualitative interviews with involuntary inpatients of a major teaching hospital. The interviews were analysed thematically using a general inductive approach. The analysis focused on the patients' general experience of being placed under an ITO and their understanding of the ITO process. Generally, those who described the experience of an ITO in more positive terms, also experienced the ITO as a positive right. In addition to providing them with the treatment needed, they also felt that the ITO gave them protection and guidance. Conversely, those who experienced being placed under an ITO in more negative or mixed ways, described feeling powerless in the process, as they felt that the ITO took away their rights. By and large the ITO process was experienced as arbitrary when patients did not understand the reasons for their admission. In addition, these patients had limited or no information about their involuntary treatment order and they did not know what was expected of them to have the ITO revoked. Most importantly, they did not feel that there were any meaningful legal protections in place. These experiences highlight the importance of the legal processes and how these can be used as clinical tools.

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