An image of a nurse and patient to accompany an article about nursing and pyschology

Why Is Psychology Important for Nursing?

A nurse’s main responsibility is to provide care and support to their patients. But to do so, we have to understand and analyze what their patients are thinking and feeling in order to know the best way to respond to their wants and needs.

Whether or not we realize it, we nurses apply psychology to our work on a regular basis to improve our bedside manner and foster better connections in the workplace. Here’s why psychology matters in the nursing field, as well as a look at some nursing careers that leverage psychology knowledge and skills.

The Importance of Psychology in Nursing

As a nurse, you care for your patients’ overall well-being, not just their physical health. By using some basic principles of psychology, you can provide emotional and mental support and build a foundation of trust with your patients. 

This is especially important when patients face a critical or long-term illness. Trust and a feeling of psychological safety will make them feel more comfortable with treatments or tests, which eases the situation for everyone involved.

Psychology is also important for nurses themselves. Many of us work in high-stress environments, and being able to calm yourself down so you’re in the right mindset to do your job is crucial for your patients, coworkers, and your own mental state.

The Application of Psychology in Nursing

Nursing is more than just charting and answering call bells. Often, you have to be your patients’ advocate and support system. Having a basic understanding of the emotions and thought processes that our patients might be experiencing during their stay goes a long way in helping them. Some benefits of applying psychology to the nursing field include the following.

1.  Better Interactions With Patients

Following psychology best practices can help you more successfully treat patients of various ages, genders, and backgrounds. For instance, children might feel fearful of interacting with adults they don’t know, so you can leverage psychology to make your young patient feel more comfortable.

Earning your patients’ trust can make all the difference in the quality of care and their recovery process. They’ll feel more comfortable communicating with you, expressing their wants and needs, and following instructions.

2. Proper Patient Assessments

Sometimes, patients struggle to find the right words to communicate how they’re feeling. Or they might even try to hide how they’re actually coping with a diagnosis. It’s important that you can evaluate the emotional state of your patients. This helps you make more educated decisions regarding their treatment.

3. More Efficient Care Plans

Different emotions, like anxiety and depression, can impact a patient’s physical recovery. Stress can raise blood pressure, apathy can hinder treatment, and misery can cause insomnia.

For example, on the surface, a patient with high blood pressure seems to just need medication for blood pressure. But their anxiety might be the primary cause behind the high vital sign. Or maybe you think you have a quick fix for a patient’s health issues, but did you address their underlying lack of desire to get better? 

When creating care plans, you have to address every aspect of a patient’s health — both physical and emotional, because very often, the two are tied closely together. 

4. Stronger Communication Skills

Knowing how to address and respond to sick patients is an important quality that nurses must possess, and it requires an understanding of psychology. 

For instance, if a patient is in pain, they might grow agitated. You’ll want to do what you can to ease the pain while calming the patient in a non-hostile manner. Or perhaps your patient is anxious about an upcoming procedure. You’ll want to clearly communicate what they should expect in a way that eases their worry and offers support.

Psychology-Related Nursing Careers

While all nurses can benefit from the application of psychology in their professions, there are specific nursing careers that require a deeper understanding of psychology. Here are some psychology-related nursing careers.

1. Psychiatric Nursing

Psychiatric-mental health nurses (PMHN) address patients with specific mental health issues, like bipolar disorder, depression, dementia, schizophrenia, and more. For example, if a patient is suicidal, a PMHN might be called in to care for them. Or if a patient just endured a difficult trauma, they might require a PMHN to evaluate their mental state. 

2. Hospice Nursing

End-of-life care is an extremely important and delicate service. Hospice nurses must possess a great deal of empathy and compassion for their patients, ensuring the patients, as well as their family members who are in mourning, are as comfortable as possible. Having a deep understanding of grief and how individuals process death is needed to best support the patient and their family.

3. Home Care Nursing

Similar to hospice nursing, home care nursing involves working one-on-one with a patient in their home, often with family members around. In this environment, it’s crucial to earn the trust of your patient and their loved ones, so they feel comfortable letting you into their space.

4. School Nursing

Working with school-age children can be complex, and you must have the patience and compassion to support children through issues like illnesses and injuries. Additionally, it’s important to identify any red flags that might indicate issues at home, like abuse or neglect. Mental health symptoms like depression, hostility, and intense anxiety are all indicative matters to address with other adults in the children’s life.

5. Faith Community Nursing

Faith community nursing, also known as church or parish nursing, takes a holistic approach to health and serves a particular faith community group. Nurses in this field provide mind-body-spirit care to patients.

Remember, psychology in nursing doesn’t just benefit patients. Nurses themselves need a basic understanding of their own emotions and what might come up while on the job. If you’re able to sort through and manage your own feelings while caring for others without lashing out or acting on impulse, you’ll be more mentally prepared and rational in your decision-making on the job.