Interactional use of compliments in mental health rehabilitation

Elina Weiste, Camilla Lindholm, Taina Valkeapää, Melisa Stevanovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


Complimenting is a valuable skill in mental health care. Today, several clinical models view positive reinforcement as beneficial for the client's process of change; however, they ignore the ambiguous nature of complimenting in social interaction. Drawing on a data set of 29 video-recorded mental health rehabilitation group meetings, and using conversation analysis as the method, we qualitatively analyzed the range of purposes served by positive assessments doing complimenting. Our results showed that compliments were used for 1) encouraging members to participate in the community, 2) increasing the pressure on members to respond, 3) closing down topics that were not relevant for discussion at that moment, and 4) generating exclusion and preparing a member for a negative decision. Our findings demonstrate that not all compliments serve straightforwardly positive interactional goals, as they are used for advancing mental-health professionals' own agendas. Moreover, due to the positive nature of the compliments per se, it is difficult for compliment recipients to resist the functions that compliments are designed to serve. The study contributes to a more nuanced understanding of what might constitute genuinely positive reinforcement in the continually changing context of moment-by-moment social interaction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)224-236
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Compliment
  • conversation analysis
  • group interaction
  • mental health
  • positive assessment
  • professional interaction

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 3


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