This event is part of the Centre for Mental Health Research Seminar.
Presenter: Dr Christine Palmer, Lecturer at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia
Lunch will be provided from 12:45 – 13:00. The seminar will commence at 13:00.
This presentation discusses the findings from a critical ethnography study of nursing practice in the acute psychiatric inpatient unit. The study explored mental health nurses’ relationships with others, including people in care, their significant others, and other nurses and colleagues. Although not asked directly, nurses were keen to explicate their beliefs about the characteristics of a good mental health nurse. These attributes are discussed as a type of emotional intelligence that is foundational to mental health nursing practice.
The central finding in this research is that the mental health nurses held their relationships with others above all other aspects of their role. The relationship has multiple meanings to mental health nurses and includes people in care, their significant others, and other nurses and colleagues from other mental health care disciplines. However, achieving a meaningful relationship with the people in their care was foundational to all of the other cultural processes in which they engaged. The mental health nurses predominantly focused on the importance of developing a therapeutic relationship with people and made time to engage at deeper levels.
There are many ways in which we connect with people and develop the sort of relationship that is basically and deeply human. Small talk that results from chance encounters is often undervalued in the literature but these encounters convey respect and develop trust and are foundational to the development of deeper therapeutic work. Despite expectations to be ‘professional’ and to keep an emotional distance from people in care, nurses were observed to express intimacy through brief encounters and through touch.
Although the participants in this research were not directly asked this question they were keen to explicate their beliefs about the characteristics of a good mental health nurse. They were clear about the need to be self-confident and self-aware and to not take negative feedback personally. They strongly believed that the good mental health nurse had certain personal characteristics that would determine their ‘goodness’ or not. Indeed, it is important to be sufficiently self-aware to be able to use interpersonal skills effectively despite difficult interpersonal circumstances. The difference between someone who has this capacity and someone who does not is the ultimate ability to be therapeutically effective while at the same time remaining personally robust. While some aspects of mental health nursing practice can be learned, the nurses in this study believe that interpersonal skills are difficult to learn and are predominantly innate.
While the qualities thought to be necessary to be a good mental health nurse were regarded as innate by the nurses in this research, an academic construct elaborates these qualities as a type of intelligence. The original authors of emotional intelligence (EI) maintain that EI involves the ability to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions, arguably abilities that are foundational to mental health nursing practice.
Dr Christine Palmer has been a Lecturer at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia since June 2014. Prior to this she worked in private practice for more than eight years as a credentialed mental health nurse delivering care to people with mental illness in the primary care setting. During this time Christine completed a PhD thesis titled: ‘Nursing practice in the acute psychiatric inpatient unit: A critical ethnography’. Despite the competing demands of biomedicine and organizational risk management, the relationship remains central to the knowledge, practice and values of these mental health nurses. Relationships with people in their care, their significant others and with members of the nursing and multiprofessional teams are foundational to the work of mental health nurses.
Christine has a particular interest in trauma informed therapy, Emotional Intelligence, and the importance of the therapeutic relationship in supporting recovery from mental illness.
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When & where
12.45pm - 2.00pmMonday 14th September 2015