What Do Psychiatric Nurses Do? Acute Care Psychiatric Nursing

March 2020

The public and other health care professionals often poorly understand roles of psychiatric nurses. Given this misunderstanding, most psychiatric nurses are asked: What do psychiatric nurses do? This question is challenging to answer because psychiatric nursing interventions are complex and woven into client care. Finding common language to describe psychiatric nursing interventions is important in order to advocate for the profession and assist novice psychiatric nurses in developing knowledge and skill.

Six psychiatric nurses employed in acute care psychiatric settings were interviewed to shed light into psychiatric nursing interventions. The psychiatric nurses reported several interrelated themes of 1) delivering person-centered care plans; 2) determining goals; 3) fostering empathy, support, and hope; 4) listening in one-to-one interactions; 5) person-centered teaching; and 6) enhancing coping strategies (Thomson et al., 2019). The voices of the psychiatric nursing participants have been highlighted to illustrate the themes.

Delivering Person-Centered Care Plans ~ Erin reported, “You partner with your client and design care plans based on what they need.”

Determining Goals ~ Sara discussed, “Goal planning involves trying to see what they (the client) want in their life and how they can work towards those things, and then hopefully that will be an avenue for showing them way to obtain some of those goals.”

Fostering Empathy, Support, and Hope ~ Meg stated, “Empathize when things maybe didn't go very well. Instill hope that things can get better. Use active listening and provide support and reassurance.”

Listening in One-to-One Interactions ~ Kristy reported, “We use a deeper level of listening. To listen with that extra ear - is not just to the content but also to the meaning. When you're telling me this story or these symptoms, how do you interpret that and how does that impact your life?”

Person-Centered Teaching ~ Amanda reported, “Part of my role as a psychiatric nurse has been to try break that stigma and really partner with patients and families to teach them about mental illness. Working with people to educate them that they can have mental illness but they can still be productive, they can still work and lead normal lives.”

Enhancing Coping Strategies ~ Dana stated, “People have skills, so finding out what works them and then just building off those skills. Chances are, this isn't their first crisis, so they do have skills underneath, but it can get a bit clouded when they're feeling so much distress.”

The research team would like to take this opportunity to thank all psychiatric nurses for the exceptional work that they do and for their commitment to person-centred care.

*Pseudonyms were used to protect the participant’s identities.

Thomson, A.E., Racher, F., & Clements, K. (2019). Person-centered psychiatric nursing interventions in acute care settings. Issues of Mental Health Nursing, 40(8), 682-689.
BIO: Andrea Thomson, Fran Racher, and Karen Clements are faculty members in the Department of Psychiatric Nursing at Brandon University.

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