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How psychiatric nurses can involve patients’ families in their care

Psychiatric patient treatment may be improved by using family participation techniques. Our handbook outlines effective strategies for nurses to work in tandem with families to provide all-encompassing care.

Mental health challenges and psychiatric conditions are part of day-to-day life for a growing number of people across the US.

In many cases, they have a significant impact on friendships, family relationships, and self-care.

This is just one of the reasons why conditions of this kind cannot simply be treated in isolation at a hospital or medical center. The most effective approaches require a level of engagement with the family members and/or support networks of the patient.

In this article, we explore some of the ways in which psychiatric nurses may be able to involve patients’ families in their care.

How psychiatric nurses can involve patients’ families


When an individual lives with one or more mental health conditions, those closest to them must understand the implications of this.

They should also be well aware of the symptoms and potential risks presented by relevant conditions, as well as the behaviors and interactions to which their loved one will respond best—whether during their treatment or recovery or during a relapse, ‘episode’ or crisis.

In some cases, certain words or actions may have a negative impact on the individual living with poor mental health and may negatively affect their progress.

Moreover, by gaining a better technical understanding of their loved one’s condition, their family members may find that it becomes ‘demystified’ and they may no longer feel intimidated when faced with evidence of its existence or when discussing it.

It may make them able to settle into a more comfortable and positive relationship with the patient, which, in turn, will help the individual feel supported, safe, and understood while going through treatment.

Treatment planning

It is often very helpful for family members to be included in treatment planning.

Not only will this help psychiatric nurses better understand the patient’s home dynamics and the most effective and practical ways in which treatment could be included in their day-to-day routine, but it also offers an opportunity for the family members themselves to give thoughts, opinions, and advice.

After all, they are usually the people who know the patient best.

Depending on the individual and the conditions with which they have been diagnosed, nurses may choose to discuss particular areas of treatment with or without the patient present.

In some cases, family members may even be able to learn how to administer particular treatments or accompany the patient through certain processes, resulting in a greater level of independence and a further opportunity for the individual requiring care to feel supported by someone close to them.

Support groups

Things can become difficult and challenging when a family member lives with a mental health condition, and relatives themselves often require professional support as a result.

Whether they require advice on dealing with particular situations or behaviors, help coming to terms with their loved one’s diagnosis, or practical tips regarding certain elements of the condition or its treatment, nurses and other medical professionals can help family members feel heard and better equipped by running support groups that deal with all of these matters and more.

Family therapy

In some cases, families of mental health patients are better served by private sessions with specialists. Again, these may be arranged with or without the patients themselves present, or a combination of both.

Family dynamics often change significantly at the onset or diagnosis of a mental health condition.

Family therapy is a great way to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and that everyone’s thoughts and concerns are considered, explored, and managed. Types of therapy may include ongoing sessions or individual interventions.

The wider impact

There are also broader benefits to engaging families—and, indeed, wider communities—in psychiatric healthcare.

The more medical professionals can share information and advice surrounding mental health with the general public, the easier it will be to reduce stigma, improve understanding, and enable patients to feel accepted and able to seek support among friends, relatives, and peers.

While many specialists can contribute to this change, psychiatric nurses are among the best placed to do so.

About psychiatric nursing

Psychiatric nursing is a challenging but hugely rewarding career path for anyone interested in the field of medicine.

These nurses are also known as psychiatric-mental health nurses, with some of the most popular job titles in the field including PMH-RN (psychiatric-mental health registered nurses), PMH-APRN (psychiatric-mental health advanced practice registered nurse), and PMHNP (psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner).

Individuals in the latter role may also be referred to as ‘psychiatric nurse practitioners’.

What do psychiatric nurse practitioners do?

While the precise duties of a psychiatric nurse practitioner may vary between states and healthcare providers, most professionals with this title are tasked with the provision of care and treatment to individuals living with a range of mental health conditions.

They may also assess patients and diagnose them with conditions of this kind, as well as prescribe treatments.

Where do psychiatric nurse practitioners work?

Psychiatric nurses are usually based in hospitals or in specialist short- or long-term psychiatric facilities, although others work in specialist schools or in the community.

How to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner

In order to qualify as a PMHNP, candidates must first complete their BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) or ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing). After this, they need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

Once they have gained between one and two years of practical nursing experience, their next step should be to earn either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), specializing in psychiatry and/or mental health.

Finally, they will need to become licensed as PMHNP-BC.

So, what is it like to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner? While the process of gaining a master’s in this field can be very straightforward — Rockhurst University’s online MSN-PMHNP program offers the flexibility for attendees to continue working as they learn and to study from anywhere—the job itself is by its nature quite a challenging one.

However, the rewards are significant. PMHNPs are always in demand, and, according to Nursing Process, the average salary for someone in this position is $133,510 as of December 2023.

Make a difference

PMHNPs make a huge difference to the lives of their patients, aiding their comfort in living with and recovering from a mental health condition, providing treatments that mitigate or totally counteract their symptoms, and working alongside their immediate network so that they can be supported in all areas of life.

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