Leaving the ‘Control’ in Control and Restraint

A leading professor in mental health has suggested that we remove the word ‘Control’ from the term ‘Control and Restraint’.

Taking the ‘control’ out of ‘control and restraint’

Context is everything.

I suggest to the Professor, with huge respect for her efforts to reduce restraint use, that the word control perseveres because it is an essential component of every last-resort physical intervention or Control and Restraint incident.

During a high-risk, violent Control and Restraint incident where a physical intervention has become, as an absolute last resort, necessary, there are many things which the staff using physical interventions *must* attempt to control.

They must attempt to:

  • control their own safety
  • control the client’s safety
  • control other clients’ safety
  • control the impact of the environment
  • control the duration of the incident
  • control their verbalisations

In this sense, the language of control could be legitimately said to emerge from Health and Safety management, where risks must be controlled.

The Meaning of Control and Restraint

Chairman of the ACPO SDAR panel, a body which is perhaps one of the most competent authorities on physical confrontation in the UK, has defined ‘Control’ in the context of ‘Control and Restraint’ in a most elegant way:

“The initial control and restraint of violent individuals is usually a fluid and dynamic process…the period of control or, perhaps more accurately, the period that leads to the control of a violent individual is usually far less structured and significantly more frenetic and potentially dangerous than that of the restraint period… I believe the easiest way to help identify this transition is by observing the actions of both the officers and the individual. Once control is achieved their actions tend to become increasingly measured and orchestrated.”

– Insp. Sutcliffe, Chairman elect of ACPO SDAR Practitioner’s Group, Evidence to the Sean Rigg enquiry

I applaud efforts to create safer services which hold dignity as a central priority, and I believe that all people should be shown respect, especially in the most difficult of moments.  I also believe it is agreed that violence will sometimes happen, even when everyone is working hard to avoid it.

So if we acknowledge that even in a Control and Restraint-free world, there may be violence which must be stopped, I don’t think that we can remove the essential components of the restraint interventions or of risk management.   We can call control something else if you wish, but the practical issues of chaotic physical geometry – when bodies collide – will not obey simple semantics.

In summary, the word ‘control’ is only ‘dated’ and ‘horrid’ if it describes an attempt by a person to influence the mind of the other through coercion, instead of an attempt to control the risks inherent in a last-resort Control and Restraint intervention.


Gerard O’Dea is a conflict management, personal safety and Control and Restraint training consultant.  He is the training director for Dynamis, a specialist in personal safety and violence reduction initiatives and the European Adviser for ‘Verbal Defense and Influence’, a global programme which addresses the spectrum of human conflict.  www.dynamis.training

 Our Control and Restraint training webpage and resources are here.   See some video of our training here.

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