This historical analysis draws attention to differing assumptions, which promote or limit user involvement in nursing practice. The meaning of the term 'user involvement' is analyzed with reference to varying models. A continuum is offered to illustrate the relationship between assumptions about people with mental health problems and their involvement in care. It is argued that the range of views concerning recipients of mental health services, from being dangerous and irrational to being considered equal partners with health professionals, creates an unresolved tension that has existed through the ages. The key to resolving this tension is for all parties openly to acknowledge conflicts between their views and those of others and engage in meaningful dialogue about them. In this way the lessons from history may be learned.
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