Is Psychiatric Nursing Right for You?

When it comes to choosing a specialty as a new nursing grad, the process can be difficult and confusing. Like most new grads, you probably have a good grasp on the medical knowledge of diseases, treatments, techniques, and technology, but that doesn’t make the choice any easier. In actuality, deciding which specific field to enter into is a huge choice that will affect the course of your career in the future.

Psychiatric nursing is one specialty that you might be considering. If so, there are a few things you’ll want to know in order to determine if it is the specialty where you will thrive and grow the most as a nurse. Here are a few things you should know about psychiatric nursing to help you decide if it’s the right field for you.

  1. You Have Patience

Psychiatric nursing is different from nursing in the ER or ICU, or even in pediatrics. Of course, you will implement things that you learned in nursing school and you will still be checking heart rates and lungs, and possibly self-inflicted wounds. However, psychiatric nursing demands an extra level of patience that you may not have had much practice exercising.

In a psychiatric ward, there are waves of chaos that come and go. There will be lulls in the energy where you will experience calm, and then suddenly the entire ward is in chaos, or there is a patient in a moment of crisis. The difference between these moments in psychiatry versus the ER, let’s say, is the fact that the chaos stems from emotional or mental turmoil on the part of the patients. There may not be anything obviously physically wrong with the patient, so you need to practice your own patience to determine how best to help. Oftentimes, you can’t actually do anything other than try to calm the patient. When these episodes are recurring, it can be wearisome, so you’ll need to make sure you can maintain that perseverance and calmness within yourself.

  1. You Have Great Interpersonal Skills

Another way in which psychiatric nursing differs from most types of nursing you will have practice in is that it demands a higher level of interpersonal skills. In this specialty, your communication and empathy are far more important than your ability to draw blood or perform exams. Because the main complaint here is mental and not physical, your ability to talk with patients calmly and interact with them in a way that helps them will be a necessity. As you work with psychiatric patients, you’ll come to see that how you relate to them can mean the difference between a cooperative patient who gradually improves and a belligerent patient that resists your attempts of treatment.

  1. You Know How to Draw the Line

While it’s true that your interpersonal skills will be incredibly helpful in psychiatric nursing, it’s also important to know how and where to draw the line when dealing with these patients. When you work so closely and consistently with individuals in vulnerable mental and emotional states, it can be easy to become attached to them. Since you are constantly talking with patients, you’ll get to know them on a personal level, and if you are in a psychiatric ward, these patients may be there long-term, or for their entire life. This means that it can become easy to be too invested in their lives.

As a psychiatric nurse, you need to know where the line ought to be drawn and how not to cross it. While this relates to how involved you get with individual patients, you also need to know where the line is drawn to protect yourself from getting too emotionally invested. It’s crucial to remember that you are a nurse performing a job, and while you do need to relate to the patients and know how to talk to them, giving too much of yourself emotionally means that you can be quickly overwhelmed and begin to feel fatigued. Drawing a line means you protect both yourself and the patient from undue emotional stress and expectations.

  1. You Thrive on Meaningful Relationships

A proper psychiatric nursing job will be beneficial for both you and your patients. As you work each day, you will find that you are becoming more introspective, keen to observation, and practiced at self-reflection. These are all skills and abilities that will help you in your own personal life, and they come about due to meaningful relationships with patients.

Though we mentioned above that it’s important to know where to draw the line, you should know that staying within that space still allows you to form those relationships with patients. You can be a calming force in the facility and help patients see you as a supportive and valuable presence in their lives. And you can learn a lot from them as well. You may discover a new perspective or learn from their mistakes or experiences. If you are ready for some give and take with patients, psychiatric nursing might be the place for you.

Final Thoughts

If you are considering psychiatric nursing as a specialty, you should know that it is difficult and takes an extreme amount of patience and flexibility, as well as an awareness of boundaries. However, if you have great interpersonal skills and desire to form meaningful relationships that help patients and yourself, you may just be up for the challenge.