An inquiry into moral virtues, especially compassion, in psychiatric nursing: findings from a Delphi study

Alan Armstrong, Shaun Parsons, Phil Barker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A three-round Delphi study was conducted to gather data on ethical reasoning among psychiatric nurses (N = 26 in round one (R1), decreasing to N = 14 in the final round (R3)). Transcripts of questionnaires were carefully read and compared. Responses were manually sorted into categories, themes and patterns of interest. Eight debates emerged from the data. This article discusses two in detail: the nature of moral virtues and the meaning of compassion in psychiatric nursing. A sympathetic overview of virtue ethics is also provided. The nurses' responses included a lot of virtue terms, such as, 'honest', 'fair', and 'care". However, 'nurses' moral virtues' was ranked low in importance as a notion invoked in ethical decision making in the round-one ranking exercise. Only half of the sample believed that the moral character of a psychiatric nurse is important in ethical decision-making. Further, most of the round-one sample thought the virtues could not be acquired. Compassion was identified as crucial to psychiatric nursing and the nurse-client relationship, though, as expected, many diverse meanings were attributed to this notion. While the Delphi method proved adequate for our purposes, problems with regard to accurately understanding the respondents' intended meanings highlighted a major weakness of this technique, in common with other methods relying on questionnaires. Further inquiry is needed regarding the role of moral virtues and virtue ethics in both psychiatric nursing and nurse education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-306
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2000


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