Methods: This study utilized a grounded theory approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). A convenience sample of 50 adult mental health court participants who had a diagnosed serious mental health disorder (schizophrenia, bipolar, or major depression) and were competent to provide informed consent were recruited through clinicians affiliated with three mental health court programs. Participants who elected to participate in the study were interviewed in-person and were asked to describe their motivations for participating in mental health court. Participants' statements were hand-recorded and transcribed into typed text verbatim. Data analysis followed the grounded theory approach that incorporates three main phases of analysis: 1) categorizing the data (open coding); 2) connecting categories (axial coding); and 3) focusing on a core category (selective coding). This systematic data analysis procedure resulted in a hypothesized “theory” identifying motivating factors for participating in a mental health court.
Results: All 50 participants were able to provide a detailed description of their reasons for choosing to participate in mental health courT. Participants were more often male (62%), unmarried (93%), white (60%), and ranged in age from 18 to 60, with a mean age of 38 years (SD=10.78). Participants enrolled in mental health court for four overarching reasons, including: a) improved legal outcomes or processes; b) better access to services or programs, c) external motivation and oversight; and d) the perceived chance to make a real change in their lives.
Conclusions and Implications: This study provides social work practitioners with previously undocumented information about court participants' motivations to become involved in this type of problem-solving therapeutic court. Practitioners may consider informing potential clients about the program's legal incentives, access to services and support, and the chance to change. Additionally, understanding what motivates court participation will help programs to employ motivational interventions to encourage treatment and continued court participation. Finally, this research provides preliminary hypotheses that can be quantitatively tested with a broader sample in future social work research.