A difficult patient is defined by a physician’s response toward the interaction with a patient. The ‘difficult patient’ narrative also reflects a physician’s experiences that could form strong negative emotions: anger, anxiety, fear, dread, frustration, despair, hopelessness, or irritation.
Being a mental health nurse practitioner means you’ll be working with people that are difficult in many ways. When working with such patients, you’re likely to run into reactions that may include defensiveness, hysteria, fear, anger, demandingness, and a whole list of other things. Add in diseases or medications that can cause drowsiness, agitation, or confusion, and it’s a whole new ball game of trying to have the best empathy and care while demonstrating professionalism.
Whatever kind of patient you may be dealing with, there are useful strategies in handling the unpleasant, frustrated, unrelenting, or uncooperative individuals. Here’s what you can do with certain situations and patients:
- Ask yourself if it’s you or the patient
First, figure out if the reactions are coming from within yourself and your life or it is the patient.
There could be much going on at work to create a perfect storm – it’s not always about the patient. You just need to momentarily excuse yourself, take a deep breath, and think about what you’re bringing to the table.
- Ground yourself
To have better self-care, you could engage yourself in running, yoga, or some other kind of exercise to ground and relieve yourself from work stress. This will help to keep you more together mentally and centered to deal with difficult patients.
- Monitor a patient’s perspective
The best or worst self in many people presents itself during a time of health concern. For instance, when a patient screams or gets angry at you, it might be their fears coming out. To help, be a good nurse and get to understand a patient’s temperament and where it’s coming from.
- Let the patients tell their story
This helps them to delve into how they’ve come to this point and will help their distress. Provide emotional help as you provide the space and time to express their emotional and psychological needs if they are emotionally distraught.
- Find empathy opportunities
Genuine empathy is the most powerful skill a
mental health nurse practitioner can have. If their eyes tear up, hand them a tissue. This will make the patient feel you care and that you’re trying to understand.
- Set Boundaries
If a patient uses profanity at you or screams at the top of their lungs, set limits. At times difficult patients need to be rebuked tell them certain things are not allowed and threaten to step out of the room for them to cool down.
- Find extended help for the patient
You could suggest finding a hospital chaplain or social worker if you feel a patient needs more help to overcome emotional breakdowns, anger, or other difficulties. Handle this sensitively and gracefully so that the patient doesn’t feel abandoned by you.
Patients come to nurses with mood disorders, mental health issues, anxiety, depressions, and a host of other complications. While they may have lifestyles or lives that you may not agree with or understand, they deserve the best nursing care. Find the calm in yourself, be honest and objective with them. Give them your undivided attention and show empathy to soften those hard edges and make a big difference in their attitude.