Patients in psychiatrist hospitals

Rosenhan in 1973 tried to investigate if psychiatrist hospitals could differentiate between people who are genuinely mentally ill and those who are faking. His aim was also to find out the relevant characteristic which leads to diagnosis are lie in the patient himself or the surroundings or the environment of the observer? And also wanted to experience how it is like to be a patient in a psychiatric ward and the attitudes of staff members towards them (as a patient).


Rosenhan create a team of eight highly educated professionals to get admissions into America’s 12 psychiatric hospitals as pseudo patients, including 3 women and 5 men – a 20-year-old graduate, 3 psychologists, a paediatrician, a psychiatrist. All of them employed pseudo names and those who were in mental health occupation they fake other occupations just to be cautious and not to get any attention by the staff members, with an exception of Rosenhan’s being a hospital administrator and chief psychologist (that too has been confidential). The presence of pseudo patients, nature of study and research was not known by the hospital staff. These pseudo patients called the hospital for an appointment, upon arrival one of the pseudo patients complained that they were hearing voices, when asked what kind of voices? replied that they were of the same sex and, but unclear, likely to be saying,” (‘empty’, ‘hollow’ and ‘thud)”.due to the non phenomenal presence of such symptoms they being picked carefully, (the alleged meaninglessness of life) and were not exist in the literature of psychoses. It is as if a hallucinating person were saying (“my life is empty and hollow”). Pseudo patients were being truthful about the rest of their life history, relationships ups and downs of their lives apart from faking their identities, work and illnesses.

Majority of psychiatrists around America disagreed with Rosenhan’s study as of psychiatric diagnosis depends on the information provided by the patient’s own experiences and circumstances, there is nothing wrong with psychiatric diagnoses if a person lies about other medical conditions as well as their mental illness. It’s like someone attended an A&E and throwing blood and hospital staff rushed towards them and consider that they are having internal bleeding in stomach due to ulcer without knowing that the patient actually drank a pint of blood and faking their symptoms, hospital staff’s behaviour would be pretty much normal in that case (Katy 1974) he again said he is not convinced that somebody can fooled medical science like Rosenhan did and his study is invalid cause of its deceptive prospect (Katy 1974).

Once they had been admitted to the psychiatric ward, the pseudo patients stopped faking any symptoms of insanity. Rosenhan “mentioned that the pseudo patients were agitated and worried because of being exposed as a fraud and the novelty of the situation”. The pseudo patients normally spoke acted and behaved in psychiatric hospitals as they never been “insane”. When asked how they were feeling by staff? “They answered that they are fine and no longer experienced the symptoms”. All pseudo patients had to prove themselves “sane” in order to get discharged .Most of the time they made observational notes. At first it was done secretly, then it becomes more open once realized nobody seems to be cared at all. One of them being caught making notes once and being questioned? “The patient said he is making notes of his medicine,” in return doctor said “You needn’t write it. If you have trouble remembering, just ask me again.” Or Sometimes pseudo patients asked staff “Pardon me, can you tell me when I am likely to be discharged?” “They were being cautious not to approach a particular staff member over & over to avoid irritating them which might arouse their suspicions.”

Table 1: Staff towards pseudo patient’s requests (as mentioned in the Rosenhan paper)

Response Percentage making contact with patient

Psychiatrists Nurses

Moves on with head averted 71 88

Makes eye contact 23 10

Pauses and chats 2 4

Stops and talks 4 0.5

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