PMID: 12801401Jun 13, 2003Paper

Being professional and being human: one nurse's relationship with a psychiatric patient

Journal of Advanced Nursing
M H Hem, K Heggen


The theoretical foundations and professional ideals of psychiatric nursing contain built-in contradictions. One central ideal is that nurses should use themselves as therapeutic instruments. The expectation that nurses should have both a professional and a human function is examined in this study. The purpose of this study was to find out how nurses experience and interpret the contradictory demands of being both fellow human being and health professional in their work with patients. An ethnographic research design including participant observation and narrative interviews with nurses working on an acute ward of a psychiatric hospital was used. The case of one nurse is analysed and discussed. The study shows that when nurses themselves are 'therapeutic instruments', tensions are created. Contradictory demands produce difficult role conflicts. Nurses vary in the ways in which they interact with patients. The study shows how the nurse's own vulnerability can be a constructive element in patient care. It also shows that although the nurse is aware of this, she is also critical of her performance, feeling that it falls short of accepted professional standards. Her colleagues reinforce these standards. The ideal that psychiatric nur...Continue Reading


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