A psychiatric or mental health nurse is an experienced registered nurse who provides specialized care to patients suffering from mental illness or anguish.
These nurses treat patients who are dealing with a number of illness or stress related ailments such as bipolar disorder, depression, dementia, psychosis and schizophrenia.
Nurses in this field are highly trained in providing psychological therapies designed to relieve and reduce stress and/or mental illness.
They are also trained to administer psychiatric medications to patients who need more than basic psychological therapy.
Because of the emphasis on mental health psychiatric nurses pay special attention and focus on building relationships with their patients and helping them build on their own mental and emotional strengths so that the patient can function confidently and independently and the nurses aim to either suppress or eliminate their mental disorder/ailment through therapy and positive feedback.
This field of work requires nurses who are patient, good-tempered, empathetic, have a strong desire to help others with mental ailments, are good at building relationships and can demonstrate a health bond between professional and patient.
Here are a list of some of the traits and skills psychiatric nurses must posses in order to properly treat and care for their patients:
Availability – Patients suffering from mental or emotional ailments are often sensitive to feelings of abandonment and un-approachability, and thus nurses do their best to provide comfort to their patients by being available to them when they feel needed. This allows the patient to build trust and better communication with the nurses and those around them.
Clear boundaries – Setting clear boundaries allows both the nurse and the patient to operate with one another in a comfortable and respectable manner. By setting clear boundaries the patient can feel comfortable and approachable with feeling they are being offended or feeling they need to defend themselves or their behavior.
Empathy – Being empathetic allows patients to better deal with their mental afflictions and helps them to accept their condition and act positively towards nurses and treatments designed to help them relieve their mental ailments. It also gives patients a sense of importance and respect, and helps build a strong bond between patient and professional.
Equality – Equality is extremely important for helping patients create a sense of self-worth and importance. By conveying equality to the patient the nurse is essentially giving him/her the strength to reflect positively about his or her identity and empowers the patient to responsibility for his/her behavior. Focusing on equality helps patients build the skills and psychological framework necessary to develop healthy relationships and independence so that they can lead healthy self-sustaining lives.
Individuality – Helping patients develop their sense of individuality helps them establish healthy perspectives and develop personal goals, desires and dreams. It also allows them to develop their emotions in accordance with their sense of individuality and helps them realize they importance of their existence as an individual contributor with his/her own perspective and contributions to the whole. By providing individual care to patients and helping them develop and focus on the important areas outside of their illness or ailments psychiatric nurses can help alter their perspectives and get them to see beyond their mental health issues.
Respect – Respect is important for boundary setting and healthy self-esteem. By accepting their patients mental condition, faults and limitations mental health nurses allow patients to lower their emotional defenses and feel comfortable about their problems while empowering them to speak about their issues and possible remedies without feeling wronged, blamed or guilty for their behavior.
Supportiveness – positive support is vital for healthy mental development and allows patients to feel comfortable about their problems and encourages them to share their feeling so that they can find healthy solutions to their ailments. It allows them to feel a sense of being cared for and helps heal emotional or psychological wounds that can make them feel defensive and uncooperative. Nurses may encourage supportive behavior through socializing or using physical touch such as congratulating, agreeing with or hugging their patients which encourages feeling of love and caring and helps patients cope better with their mental problems.
Understanding – Allowing patients to feel understood and accepted helps to foster positive relationships and bonds between nurse and patient. Those who feel understood do not have to feel defensive or hide their mental condition and are thus able to provide the nurse with feedback that can help him/her develop the best type of treatment for the patient so that they can heal and/or stabilize their mental illness, disorder or ailment. Developing a relationship of positive understanding and care is also essential for the patients mental health, sense of well-being and overall comfort with his/her situation and allows the patient to accept their condition feeling negative about it.
Many of the treatments psychiatric nurses provide also focuses on helping patients look beyond their mental ailments and focus on their life as a whole.
This causes patients to understand and pay attention to the areas in their lives that aren’t about or affected by their ailments such as activities or hobbies, relationships with family and friends, their contributions and achievements and many other aspects of their lives than can help them develop healthy perspectives about who they are and helps them feel they have an important role in this world.
Becoming a psychiatric nurse
In order to become a psychiatric nurse you must first become a certified registered nurse.
Becoming a registered nurse requires taking a nursing program which may be offered at a university or college.
Depending on the university or college the prerequisites and GPA average required to get into the nursing program may vary.
The level of competition for getting accepted into the nursing program may also vary depending on where you apply.
Highly accredited schools generally have higher levels of competition so it is important to find out what school best meets your requirements and/or perquisites and GPA average so that you can gain the best ability to be accepted into the program.
It generally takes 2 – 3 years of schooling before being able to become certified as a registered nurse with an associate degree in nursing.
After taking the required nursing courses and passing the national exam required to become certified as a registered nurse you can apply for an entry position in the nursing field and begin taking continuing education courses in the field of psychiatric nursing.
If possible try applying for an entry-level position in a field that specializes in psychiatric nursing or see if you can ask for a psychiatric rotation at your hospital in order to gain experience and acquire the skills needed to become a professional psychiatric nurse.
Check to see if your state requires you to take a psychiatric mental health nursing certification and if so than gain the training necessary to become eligible for certification.
For those required to take the certification exam the following requirements must be met:
- Have at least 2 years of experience working as a registered nurse
- Have a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in psychiatric and mental health nursing within the last 3 years
- Complete at least 30 hours of continuing education training/courses in psychiatric and mental health nursing within the last 3 years
Even if you aren’t required to take the certification exam you may still want to pursue becoming certified as a psychiatric nurse care specialist as this not only looks good on your resume but it also demonstrates a clear understanding of how to perform your duties effectively and efficiently and gives your peers and co workers confidence in your ability to provide professional care to patients in need of psychiatric care.
As always it is best to ask your local hospital, university or college what the best course of action is for becoming a psychiatric nurse as they will be able to provide you with the knowledge you need to take the right steps and in direction of becoming a professional in this field.