What Makes a Good Psych Nurse? Tips for New Nurses

Psychiatric nursing is a highly specialized field of nursing that involves caring for individuals with various mental health issues. As a psych nurse, you'll need to be able to provide compassionate care while also managing complex situations. So, what makes a good psych nurse? 

In this blog post, we'll explore some of the key qualities and skills that are essential for success as a psych nurse, inform you of what you need to know before becoming a psych nurse, provide tips for new nurses who are just starting, and provide suggestions for those struggling with the emotional or mental toll of being a psych nurse. 

Qualifications of a Good Psych Nurse

Being a good psych nurse requires clinical expertise, empathy, and strong communication skills, in addition to many of the key characteristics of nurses. You'll need to be able to assess mental health conditions, provide medication management, and work with patients and their families to explain and support them in implementing effective treatment plans. 

Additionally, you'll need to be able to provide emotional support to patients dealing with challenging mental health issues, which may impact you emotionally and mentally. Later in this blog post, we'll share resources to help you cope with this situation. 

What New Psych Nurses Need to Know 

If you're a new psych nurse, you've likely spent clinical time in psych wards and had numerous conversations with psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. However, you only really know what it's like to be a psych nurse once you're working in this specialty day in and day out, so if you're new to this role, the following advice will help guide you. 

  • Psych nurses focus on care services such as assessing symptoms, monitoring progress, managing medication, and providing counseling and emotional support. Unlike psychiatrists, they do not specialize in diagnosis or treatment plans. 
  • Psych nurses are generally trained to approach treatment differently by focusing more on exploring environmental and interpersonal relationship dynamics that affect patients' mental health rather than medication and psychotherapy. 
  • Psych nursing jobs demand increased empathy, emotional intelligence, and problem-solving skills. It is crucial to connect with patients but equally important to not get too emotionally attached or involved. Psych nurses are advised to maintain some psychological distance from their clients and work.
  • Strong communication skills are especially crucial in psych nursing as you will talk patients through difficult situations, give verbal instructions, and teach them different coping mechanisms. You will receive training on appropriate verbal communication and body language.  
  • Psych nursing requires nurses to stay up to date on emerging care techniques and evidence-based treatments to provide optimal care.

Tips for New Psych Nurses

If you're wondering, "What Makes a Good Psych Nurse?" the below list of tips will help you as you familiarize yourself with this nursing specialty. 

  1. Take time to be in command of your own emotions. As a psych nurse, you will be exposed to complex and dramatic situations, and learning how to display the appropriate emotion for the situation is vital. This includes being mindful of your facial expressions, as you also express messages through non-verbal communication.
  2. Listen to patients without judging. As a psych nurse, you will spend a lot of time with patients and likely become their sounding board. It is vital to give them a safe space to talk but refrain from giving them advice—even when tempted. 
  3. Practice decision-making. You'll be confronted with countless situations requiring you to make quick assessments and decisions on when to engage in patient interactions or walk away from a confrontation. It's essential to decide on an appropriate response to different situations before they escalate or have negative repercussions. 

Struggling as a Psych Nurse?

It is normal to face challenges as a healthcare professional, let alone as a psych nurse who faces daily difficult and distressing situations. Providing care for psychiatric patients exposes psych nurses to secondary trauma, vicarious trauma, and clinician burnout

If you're struggling with the emotional and mental burden of psych nursing, do routine check-ins with yourself so you can recognize when you're struggling with trauma, emotional distress, or excessive stress. You can also speak to your Human Resources (HR) department about mental health resources and benefits available to you. 

Consider joining a support group such as Nurses Together for support and advice from fellow nurses. Additionally, our Nursa community is a corner of the Internet where you can learn and connect with other nurses

You can also utilize other resources, such as the following:

  • Therapist Aid provides free therapy worksheets, audio exercises, and more.
  • The Frontline Therapy Network provides up to six free therapy sessions for health workers.
  • PeerRxMed offers free peer-to-peer services for healthcare professionals to create a community of support and encouragement.
  • Happy App Warm Line provides free 24/7 access to a nurse "support giver" for when you need someone to speak with. 
  • "A Nursing State of Mind" is a podcast that explores work-life balance and self-care for nurses. 

Curious about becoming a psych nurse? For more information on everything from psych nursing salaries to how to become a psych nurse, check out Nursa’s comprehensive guide on psych nursing.

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