How language shapes psychiatric case formulation

John Walsh, Nayia Cominos, Jon Jureidini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The aim of this paper is to describe, analyse, and discuss the process of formulation in the specific context of mental health (MH). Formulation is a fundamental element of the work of psychiatrists and other MH clinicians that is expected to be mastered during training. The literature, however, shows that formulation is rarely explicitly addressed in the psychiatric curriculum; rather, it is implicitly developed through modelling, and/or clinical practice. This paper focuses on case formulation in one MH context in Australia. It tracks the iterative formulation of one patient in a hospital emergency department. The analysis uses resources from systemic functional linguistics (SFL) situated within a broader framework of discourse analysis. It highlights patterns of lexical relations and nominalisation as well as the range of conjunctions. These make explicit how the clinicians talk about the patient's illness and shape their developing understanding into a logical formulation. We see applications of this work for the training of mental health professionals. These data make explicit the ways in which the participating clinicians use language in the process of formulation. By bringing this process to the level of consciousness, it can be discussed and evaluated and become a pedagogic resource.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-114
Number of pages16
JournalCommunication and Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Case formulation
  • Mental health
  • Psychiatry
  • Systemic functional linguistics


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