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'I feel unable to talk to my mentor about how my placement makes me feel'

My experience of working in adult mental health so far has very much been alone the lines of “you are a nurse, this is your patient, you give them treatment and that is it.”

I’m not saying that this is the same for everybody but as a student I felt unable to talk to my mentors about how a particular case might make me feel, as if it wasn’t the done thing. There were times during my first year when I thought I may not be cut out for this as some patients cases did make me feel emotional.

For the past month I’ve been on a CAMHS placement where a nurse’s thoughts and feelings about their patients are integral to their practice. Weekly team meetings aren’t just about working with a patient but also include how every member of the team feels. This shared amongst everybody with no judgement.There’s no shame in saying that working with a certain child makes you feel sad, frustrated, and protective, whatever the emotion may be. I suspect that this wouldn’t go down so well in my previous placements.

Maybe working with children naturally rouses more emotion in people

Other mental health professionals, such as psychologists and therapists, have to undergo mandatory therapy during their training to enable them to be offload any feelings they may be holding on to. Whilst nurses have clinical supervision this isn’t quite the same, and there very often isn’t time for students to have this opportunity. Would this be useful for student mental health nurses? For me, I feel like it would.

Maybe working with children naturally rouses more emotion in people. Perhaps there are adult services that do address this issue with staff. There is of course the issue of maintaining professional boundaries with your patients – showing your emotions inappropriately to your patient is of course a big no-no but nurses are not robots, we have feelings like anybody else.

I could write pages and pages about how much I have loved my CAMHS placement, but one of the most important things I have learnt is that it is important to recognise the way you feel and how this may be implicated in your practice.

Natalie Moore is the student nurse editor for mental health branch nursing.

Readers' comments (5)

  • How right you are, I was sad about a patient dying, I didn't cry, I was just sad end of, and my errrr mentor said I had mental health issues, can you believe it!

    Erm that's a human being and so am I, we are not cardboard cut outs!

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  • As a nurse for 30 years and a trainee counsellor for the last three I completely agree. It is my belief that all nurses should have therapy and supervision that is self focussed and not just process focussed during their training. Research suggests that empathy decreases with time in nurses but that it increases over time with counsellors. I am also mindful that the professional bodies take a very different stance. The NMC is punitive in their Code and there is nothing about self care for the practitioner, it is only about attaining perfection. The BACP ethical framework (counsellors professional body) is very much a 'working towards' ethos and is very focussed on self-care as a must to be able to work effectively. Until things change nurses will we 'set up to fail' by the system. I suggest you put in your own self-care as this will serve you well over your career. Lovely to read such a self-reflective piece. Good luck

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  • michael stone

    Natalie, I'm not a nurse so I suppose my comments about this are very uninformed - but from your writing, I suspect that the more people who think like you and who become nurses, the more that problem will be addressed.

    As the previous poster commented, your post is very reflective, and makes the points very clearly - there is also an obviously tricky area between 'feeling enough for the patients' and 'empathising so much that I become damaged' (an obvious alternative being 'becoming very hardened').

    Nurses are the clinicians who spend the most time 'with patients', so the issues you raise are very significant, I suspect, for nurses in particular.

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  • Anonymous | 12-Dec-2012 11:35 pm
    That is awful! I hope you have more supportive mentors on future placements. Its something we should feed back to our universities.

    Anonymous | 13-Dec-2012 8:13 am
    Thank you for your lovely comment. I am going to look up the BACAP code but I know that is a common criticism of the NMC, for many reasons.

    DH Agent - as if ! | 13-Dec-2012 3:36 pm
    I think you are right, if the issue gets raised more then perhaps something can be done about it. This is something I will now always consider in my practice so I can help my future students with it too!

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  • Florence

    Well done Natalie.I can see that you have gained a great deal from your placement. You have really answered your own question.Recognising how you may feel and how this may implicate your practice is a vital skill in nursing. I wish I had attained this more fully during my Student years. However the culture was different then. Thankfully alot has changed.
    You appear to have a great deal of self awareness . This will enhance your skills as a Nurse and eventually help when you start mentoring students yourself. I absolutley agree that time for reflection and honest discussion of how a certain situation may be making you feel is essential. I know your University would agree and perhaps more clinical areas do need to consider this and look at their current practice in terms of how much time they give their Students to do this.
    And to be totally honest here some areas probarly need to ensure they give their Nurses that oppertunity too.
    I would expect your placement would have given you an evaluation of experience questionnaire. And its not too late to comment on any previous experience you have have had thats been less positive either.
    As a Mentor I welcome all feedback.I particularly want to know what hasn't been so useful or positive. Todays Students are our Nurses for tommorow. And I want my Students to have constructive placements and feel supported in their learning journey.
    Good mentorship is about creating trust and openness between both parties and a good mentor should allow you the oppertunity to express yourself.As a Mentor today I try my best to create the oppertunity for openness between myself and my Students.
    I try to keep it simple really.I make it clear that there are '' No daft questions'' and '' I need you to be honest about how you are feeling or finding something so I can support you. As Ive probarly felt the same way too at some point''.
    And I try my best to make sure that I make time for my Sudent & I to have '' informal'' sessions for reflection if not on a daily basis at least a couple of times a week.
    I trained in the early 90's and the culture was different. I was unable to talk with my Mentor during my Mental Health placement. Luckily his colleague, an experienced and wise Nurse, stepped in and eventually I was able to gain a great deal from the experience
    As Nurses we see many emotive and sad situations.We also are privilged to be part of the journey in using our skills to help people through difficult periods in their lives.
    Its a journey for the Patients. Its also a journey for us us as we carry what we learn in to our practice.
    Im a General trained nurse working with adults. I did a placement working with children during my training. Working with children does arouse alot of emotions, particularly but not exclusively if you are a Parent yourself.
    Thank you for your reflective piece. This will improve my practice as a mentor. I will be more mindful of how certain situations may affect my Students and I will certainatley make sure I allow more oppertunity for reflection.


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