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Assessment of aggression in inpatient settings

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 June 2014

Barbara E. McDermott*
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of California Davis School of Medicine, Sacramento, California, 95817, USA
Brian J. Holoyda
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of California Davis School of Medicine, Sacramento, California, 95817, USA
*Address for correspondence: Barbara E. McDermott, PhD, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Division of Psychiatry and the Law, UC Davis School of Medicine, 2230 Stockton Blvd. Sacramento, CA, 95817, USA. (Email:


The threat of violence is a major concern for all individuals working or receiving treatment in an inpatient psychiatric setting. One major focus in forensic psychology and psychiatry over the past several decades has been the development of risk assessments to aid in the identification of those individuals most at risk of exhibiting violent behavior. So-called second- and third-generation risk assessments were developed to improve the accuracy of decision making. While these instruments were developed for use in the community, many have proven to be effective in identifying patients more likely to exhibit institutional aggression. Because the purpose of risk assessment is the reduction of violence, dynamic factors were included in third-generation risk instruments to provide opportunities for intervention and methods for measuring change. Research with these instruments indicates that both static factors (second-generation) and dynamic factors (third-generation) are important in identifying those patients most likely to engage in institutional aggression, especially when the aggression is categorized by type (impulsive/reactive, organized/predatory/instrumental, psychotic). Recent research has indicated that developing a typology of aggressive incidents may provide insight both into precipitants to assaults as well as appropriate interventions to reduce such aggression. The extant literature suggests that both static and dynamic risk factors are important, but may be differentially related to the type of aggression exhibited and the characteristics of the individuals exhibiting the aggression.

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