Defining Professionalism for Mental Health Services: A Rapid Systematic Review

Lauren M.E. Aylott, Paul A. Tiffin, Mona Saad, Alexis R. Llewellyn, Gabrielle M. Finn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Efforts have been made to define professionalism across the professions, yet little attention has been paid to the concept in mental health services, where patients’ needs differ to that in other healthcare specialties. Aims: To derive a definition of professionalism for mental health services using the existing literature. Method: A rapid, systematic review was conducted to identify empirical and non-empirical records that described professionalism in a mental health service context from 2006 to 2017. Studies were synthesised narratively using thematic analysis. Results: Seventy records were included in the review. Professionalism was described on two levels; at a societal level, a dynamic social contract between professions and society, and; at an individual level, having intrapersonal, interpersonal, and working professionalism. Utilising emerging themes, an operationalised definition of professionalism, suitable for a mental health service context was derived. Conclusions: Within mental health services, emphasis is placed on the interpersonal aspects of practice such as communication skills, maintaining boundaries and humanity. Themes relating to the vulnerability of patients and the challenge of supporting autonomy and choice whilst maintaining safety and acting in a client’s best interest are also evident. ‘Practical wisdom’ and a flexible approach to working are needed to manage these challenging situations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)546-565
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of mental health (Abingdon, England)
Issue number5
Early online date30 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Mental health
  • professional attributes
  • professionalism
  • skills
  • systematic review
  • values


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