The psychiatric nurse: What’s in your toolkit?

By | 2021-05-07T17:33:26-04:00 November 13th, 2015|3 Comments

Psychiatric and mental health nursing is a unique specialty unlike any other.

What does it take to be an effective mental health nurse? These are the tools we think are essential in providing excellent mental health care.

Ability to listen

Psych nurses know that listening and the ability to just “be” with a patient is one of the most important aspects of mental health care.

Therapeutic communication

Any nurse can benefit from mastering therapeutic communication techniques, but for psychiatric nurses, it’s the very cornerstone of their practice. Whether helping a patient through a transient mental health challenge or more chronic psychiatric disorders, psych nurses rely on therapeutic communication to guide patients through difficult feelings and behaviors.

Ability to practice non-judgment

Mental health nurses may see and hear things that test their own beliefs and ethics. But it’s difficult to help patients without truly setting aside judgment. Still, biases happen. A great psych nurse knows when to seek peer support when a situation tests those boundaries a little too much.

A desire to educate the public

Much stigma still remains surrounding mental health. Psychiatric nurses experience it not only through their patients and families, but through public misperception. Because psych nurses work so closely with patients who have mental health needs, they can help cut through the myths.

Psychiatric medication knowledge

Psychiatric medications are a distinct group of drugs, ranging from anxiolytics to SSRIs, to mood stabilizers and antipsychotics. Not all drugs work for all people, sometimes a combination is best, and sometimes the side effects make it difficult for a patient to follow through with their medication regimen as prescribed. Mental health nurses need to be experienced with how medications play a role in a patient’s treatment.

Ability to identify when a person is a danger to self or others

Mental health nurses may be the first clinician to identify when a patient is at risk of harming self or others. Having the ability to assess danger to self or others enables the mental health nurse to begin the chain of intervention immediately, helping the patient to remain safe.

Willingness to talk about dark subjects

Being able to openly talk about difficult topics forces the nurse to face not only their patients’ darkest thoughts, but their own as well.

Your turn

Are you a psychiatric nurse? What tools do you think are most important to have in your toolkit?

Prepare for the Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing (RN-BC) exam with the RN-BC® Certification Review Course. offers a fully online self-paced prep course.


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