As nurses, we are not just responsible for our patients’ physical health; to claim that we are fulfilling our job description, we must be concerned with their emotional health, as well. This holistic approach is a fundamental part of nursing theory. At no point is this concept more important than after a traumatic or emergent situation. Something that we see every day could be devastating, even life-changing to the patient who is going through it for the first time. How can registered nurses care for patients after an emotionally traumatic experience?
Therapeutic Communication after Traumatic Experiences
When patients are critically ill, they are facing many unfamiliar emotions. One of your primary goals should be to help the patient verbalize their feelings about the experience. In order to help patients express themselves, use therapeutic communication techniques. Though it’s a very deep subject, there are a few basic principles behind therapeutic communication.
- Ask, don’t tell. Expressing their feelings is an important step in patient’s emotional recovery; to help them do this, you will have to draw them out. Use open-ended questions instead of closed questions. For example, simply stating, “This must be difficult to deal with,” or, “You must be very worried right now” validates the patient’s feelings, but it does not leave an open door for them to express themselves. In contrast, asking, “How does that make you feel?” or a similar open-ended question allows your patient a chance to describe their feelings.
- Listen, don’t talk. You might come across a good moment to share some advice, comforting words, or a personal experience, but this shouldn’t be your primary goal. Instead, continue encouraging the patient to express their feelings. Make it clear that you are paying attention. Your body language says a lot. Maintain eye contact while they are speaking, and don’t keep working on other tasks the whole time; instead, give them your full attention. If your patient realizes that they are important to you, they will find it easier to confide in you.
Protecting Yourself – The Impact of Patient Trauma on Nurses
There’s a level on which nurses have to remain emotionally disconnected. During an emergency, emotions will cloud and slow your judgment, and they have to be temporarily shut down. Even with day-to-day nursing care, carrying the emotional load of every patient’s problems will quickly break you. While you’re on the job, it’s your responsibility to help your patients work through their emotional concerns, but you have to learn to leave it behind once you clock out.
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