Nursing column: ‘And breathe…’

Take time for the all-important moments of therapeutic engagement, says Ishbel Straker.

I was discussing with a close friend the other day her newly acquired qualification in counselling. We talked about the various approaches and which methods we leaned towards – I’ve always been a Berne groupie myself [the Eric Berne method, based on transactional analysis].

My friend asked me how I knew so much about counselling and asked if I had completed a course. I explained that as a psychiatric nurse I was trained in all of the above, with the majority of my course spent learning how to therapeutically engage with patients. I came away considering how far removed we have become as nurses from the intentions of our qualification within the addiction field, and wondered where have the majority of us have landed.

As I’ve mentioned before, I stumbled into the addictions field at the beginning of my nursing career and the aspect that captivated me most was having the freedom to invest my time and training in clients who were responsive. This remains the best part of working in this field for me, and one which I have made a priority for the nurses I supervise. This has been a welcome change for most, and one that has been embraced by all staff and clients. It feels important to enable nurses to use their learned skill in all areas of their working practice for their own motivation and for the quality of care provided to our clients.

Therapeutic engagement within a key work setting is like breathing for a psychiatric nurse and I have come to realise that when it is taken away, it leaves nurses bereft of their ability to have a positive impact through meaningful interactions.

That is not to say that administering medication, vaccinating clients, providing them with health checks and harm minimisation support is not essential. What I am saying is, as nurses, we should give ourselves and our clients time for a significant interaction, one which we are able to reflect upon, digest and follow up. Simply give yourself time to breathe.

Ishbel Straker is clinical director for a substance misuse organisation, a registered mental health nurse, independent nurse prescriber (INP), and a board member of IntANSA.