Patients' and volunteer coaches' experiences with an informal social network intervention in forensic psychiatric care: a qualitative analysis

Lise T. A. Swinkels, Mariken B. de Koning, Thimo M. van der Pol, Jack J. M. Dekker, Janna F. ter Harmsel, Arne Popma

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2 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Improving supportive social networks in forensic psychiatric patients is deemed important due to the protective effects of such networks on both mental health problems and criminal recidivism. Informal interventions targeted at social network enhancement by community volunteers showed positive effects in various patient and offender populations. However, these interventions have not specifically been studied in forensic psychiatric populations. Therefore, forensic psychiatric outpatients' and volunteer coaches' experiences with an informal social network intervention were explored in this study. METHODS: This qualitative study was based on semi-structured interviews conducted alongside an RCT. Forensic outpatients allocated to the additive informal social network intervention, and volunteer coaches, were interviewed 12 months after baseline assessment. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Reflexive thematic analysis was used to identify and report patterns in the data. RESULTS: We included 22 patients and 14 coaches in the study. The analysis of interviews revealed five main themes reflecting patients' and coaches' experiences: (1) dealing with patient receptivity, (2) developing social bonds, (3) receiving social support, (4) achieving meaningful change, and (5) using a personalized approach. Patient receptivity, including willingness, attitudes, and timing, was a common reported barrier affecting patients' engagement in the intervention. Both patients' and coaches' experiences confirmed that the intervention can be meaningful in developing new social bonds between them, in which patients received social support. Despite, experiences of meaningful and sustainable changes in patients' social situations were not clearly demonstrated. Coaches' experiences revealed broadened worldviews and an enhanced sense of fulfillment and purpose. Finally, a personalized, relationship-oriented rather than goal-oriented approach was feasible and preferable. CONCLUSION: This qualitative study showed positive experiences of both forensic psychiatric outpatients and volunteer coaches with an informal social network intervention in addition to forensic psychiatric care. Notwithstanding the limitations, the study suggests that these additive interventions provide an opportunity for forensic outpatients to experience new positive social interactions with individuals in the community, which can initiate personal development. Barriers and facilitators to engagement are discussed to improve further development and implementation of the intervention. TRIAL REGISTRATION: This study is registered at the Netherlands Trial Register (NTR7163, registration date: 16/04/2018).
Original languageEnglish
Article number290
Pages (from-to)290
JournalBMC psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Befriending
  • Forensic psychiatric patients
  • Informal care
  • Mental healthcare
  • Mentoring
  • Qualitative analysis
  • Social network intervention

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