Psychiatric nursing involves working with individuals with various mental disorders. I am sure you have experienced anxiety at one time or another. Can you imagine experiencing anxious feelings all day? Can you imagine feeling sad all day? These are real emotions and disorders that many people suffer with. Much stigma is attached to mental illnesses and to individuals who suffer from them, and many misconceptions prevail about them. These false beliefs and fears may also be present in student nurses. However, as you become acquainted with psychiatric patients and begin to understand the basics of mental illness, this stigma will decrease.

In psychiatric nursing, you will continue to use the med-surg skills when necessary, but the real focus is upon therapeutic use of self. You will learn how to use words, body language, and the milieu to facilitate healing for patients with mental illness. Psychopharmacology, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), light therapy, vagal nerve stimulation, and transmagnetic stimulation of the brain are some procedures used to treat psychiatric disorders. Individuals experiencing mental illness are encountered not only in psychiatric facilities, but also in any area where you practice, as well as in your community. The skills you develop in psychiatric nursing will be transferable to any setting. You will learn the basics of supportive therapy using therapeutic communication, assessment of common signs and symptoms of mental illness, and multiple treatment modalities that you have not previously seen. It is important to establish a therapeutic nurse-client relationship to understand and correctly treat these disorders.

The course will expose you to the various disorders that exist in psychiatric nursing. These patients may exhibit both physical and emotional symptoms. Although no medical problems may be assessed on initial examination, a patient's symptoms may be exacerbated by the severe mental stressors. Most of the time, patients are tested extensively for a cause of these symptoms, but usually a medical cause cannot be determined. An example is the patient who comes into the ER with a severe panic disorder and spends several hours in the ER before learning that no medical cause has been identified. Discouraged, these patients often return home to deal with these symptoms on their own unless properly referred to a mental health facility or practitioner.

The exams in the course are similar to the other courses in which the content is based on various disorders, symptoms, and treatments. The first exam is commonly based on your knowledge of maintaining a therapeutic relationship with psychiatric patients. This section of the course is very important; it will teach you the ability to communicate on a therapeutic level.

The clinical portion of this course is very different from the other clinical experiences. Patients are usually ambulatory and are involved in group as well as individual therapy, and participate in various recreational and artistic activities to facilitate coping with their symptoms. Families usually are usually involved, as well, and psychoeducation is very important.

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