The use of therapeutic untruths by learning disability nursing students

Karen McKenzie*, Suzanne Taylor, George Murray, Ian James

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The use of therapeutic untruths raises a number of ethical issues, which have begun to be explored to some extent, particularly in dementia care services, where their use has been found to be high. Little is known, however, about their use by health professionals working in learning disability services.

Research question:
The study aimed to explore the frequency of use of therapeutic untruths by student learning disability nurses, and by their colleagues; how effective the students perceived them to be as a means of responding to behaviours that challenge; and their level of comfort with using them.

Research design:
A correlational design was used to gather data from an online version of the Best Interest Scale, adapted for a learning disability context. Participants were 30 learning disability student nurses (female = 28, ages 18–48 years, M = 26.8, standard deviation = 7.3) studying at a university in the North-East of England.

Ethical considerations:
The study was reviewed and received ethical approval from the first author’s university ethics committee.

Overall, 96% of participants reported using therapeutic untruths. ‘Omission’ was the most frequently used type of therapeutic untruths, the most effective and the type that the students felt most comfortable using. Frequency of use of therapeutic untruths correlated significantly and positively with perceived effectiveness and the level of comfort that the students felt when using them, for all types of therapeutic untruths.

The use of therapeutic untruths by the student nurses was consistent with that found in research in dementia care services in the United Kingdom and abroad. Further research to explore the generalisability of the results to the wider context of learning disability services is needed. The study highlights that there may be a need for more formal guidance and educational input to student nurses in the use of therapeutic untruths with people with a learning disability.
Original languageEnglish
Article number096973302092813
Pages (from-to)1607-1617
Number of pages11
JournalNursing Ethics
Issue number8
Early online date6 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


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