Psychiatric Nursing Techniques for Improved Patient Outcomes

Time Of Info By TOI Staff   August 23, 2023   Update on : August 23, 2023

Psychiatric nursing

Psychiatric nursing plays a vital role in the landscape of modern mental healthcare, as it provides specialized and compassionate care to individuals facing mental health challenges. These skilled professionals diagnose and provide treatment by using a range of techniques. From the initial assessment process to crisis intervention, cultural competence, and holistic approaches, this article will explore the techniques that contribute to the wellbeing and improved outcomes of those experiencing mental health issues.

The assessment process

The assessment process is an important starting point for psychiatric nurses in understanding the patient’s mental health needs and preparing an appropriate treatment plan. This phase involves several key techniques.

Establishing trust

Psychiatric nurses strive to create a safe and non-judgmental environment where patients feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and emotions. Active listening and showing empathy can help to establish trust. This is essential for open communication and collaboration throughout the treatment journey.

Learning patient history

Obtaining a comprehensive patient history is essential for understanding the patient’s mental health background and current concerns. Psychiatric nurses conduct detailed interviews with patients, and sometimes, with their families or caregivers. This knowledge helps them understand the patient’s personal and family psychiatric history, medical history, and any relevant psychosocial factors. The information helps in identifying potential triggers and any underlying issues too.

Standardized assessment tools

Psychiatric nurses often use techniques involving standardized assessment tools and scales. These tools help in measuring the severity of symptoms, monitoring changes over time, and making reliable comparisons with established norms. Examples of such assessments include the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) for assessing depression, the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7 (GAD-7) for anxiety, or the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) for assessing schizophrenia symptoms.

A mental status examination

The mental status examination (MSE) is a vital component of psychiatric assessment. It involves a structured evaluation of the patient’s cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning at the time of the evaluation. The MSE assesses factors such as appearance, speech, mood, thought processes, cognitive functioning, insight, and judgment. This assists psychiatric nurses in gaining a better understanding of the patient’s mental state, enabling an accurate diagnosis and the creation of an appropriate treatment plan.

Assessing for co-occurring medical conditions

Some medical conditions can manifest with psychiatric symptoms, complicating the diagnostic process. As a result, nurses conduct a thorough physical assessment and may collaborate with other healthcare professionals to rule out any underlying medical conditions. This will also ensure proper management of existing conditions that might impact mental health either directly or indirectly.

It might seem complicated and there are quite a lot of techniques that can be used in diagnosing and treating patients. However, it is rewarding to learn how to become a PMHNP and study remotely at educational institutes such as Marymount University. Their accredited qualifications will prepare students for a career in psychiatric nursing. With coursework that students can study in their own time, and help with finding a suitable work placement, students will be fully supported as they learn more about the techniques used to help patients with a mental illness.

Diagnostic techniques

Psychiatric nurses use several techniques when diagnosing patients.

Understanding the DSM-5-TR and its role in psychiatric nursing

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5-TR), serves as the cornerstone of psychiatric nursing diagnoses. This comprehensive manual was revised in 2022 and provides a standardized classification system for mental health conditions, aiding psychiatric nurses in the techniques they use when identifying and categorizing various disorders. Nurses familiarize themselves with the DSM-5-TR to help with effective communication with other healthcare professionals, ensuring consistency and precision when diagnosing and treating specific conditions.

Differential diagnosis and ruling out other conditions

Psychiatric nurses are skilled in conducting thorough assessments to differentiate between various mental health conditions. Differential diagnosis involves systematically evaluating symptoms and ruling out other potential medical, psychological, or environmental factors that may contribute to the patient’s health. By using critical thinking and evidence-based reasoning, nurses can pinpoint the precise mental health condition, enabling them to create personalized treatment interventions.

Following evidence-based guidelines in the diagnostic process

In psychiatry, evidence-based practice (EBP) is essential. By staying current with the latest research and guidelines, nurses ensure that their diagnostic decisions, treatment plans, and techniques are based on the best available evidence. Relying on evidence-based guidelines enhances the efficiency and safety of interventions, ultimately leading to better patient outcomes and satisfaction.

Involving the patient in diagnostic decision-making

Psychiatric nursing has changed for the better over the years. Techniques that didn’t give patients much or any say in their treatment were never overly effective. Today, nurses try to involve patients in the diagnostic process and empower them to take a more involved role in their mental healthcare journey. By actively listening to their experiences, concerns, and preferences, nurses can gain valuable insights and establish a more holistic understanding of the patient’s condition. This patient-centered approach is another way to build trust and therapeutic rapport, contributing to a more positive outcome.


Techniques involving other forms of collaboration can also be effective. In psychiatric nursing, teamwork is key to providing comprehensive patient care. Psychiatric nurses collaborate closely with a diverse group of healthcare professionals, including physicians, social workers, occupational therapists, and counselors. This interdisciplinary approach ensures a holistic evaluation of the patient’s needs and leads to a treatment plan that addresses both mental and physical health aspects. The team can use their specialized expertise to provide the best possible care for the patient.

The involvement of family members and support systems is another integral technique to ensure the success of psychiatric treatment. Psychiatric nurses recognize the vital role that loved ones play in a patient’s recovery journey. They engage with family members to educate them about the patient’s condition, provide guidance on supporting their loved one, and offer coping strategies to navigate challenging situations. By involving families, nurses can create a supportive environment that enhances the patient’s overall wellbeing and long-term recovery prospects. This also eases the emotional and physical strain on family members and other caregivers.

Psychotherapy techniques employed by psychiatric nurses

There are several psychotherapy techniques that are used by psychiatric nurses. Some work better than others on specific mental health issues. Of course, this varies from patient to patient.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a widely used psychotherapy technique that focuses on identifying and modifying negative thought patterns and behaviors. Psychiatric nurses use CBT to help patients recognize how their thoughts influence emotions and behavior. By challenging irrational beliefs and developing healthier coping mechanisms, patients can learn to manage their symptoms more effectively.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

DBT is a specialized approach that is often used to treat patients with borderline personality disorder and other emotion dysregulation disorders. Psychiatric nurses use DBT to teach patients mindfulness skills, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. This can reduce self-destructive behaviors and enhance coping skills.

Motivational interviewing (MI)

MI is a patient-centered counseling technique designed to elicit and strengthen the patient’s intrinsic motivation for change. Psychiatric nurses use MI to explore and overcome uncertainty in patients regarding treatment goals and behavior modification. They create a non-judgmental and empathetic environment where they can support patients in making positive changes to improve their mental health.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

Interpersonal therapy is a time-limited psychotherapy that focuses on improving interpersonal relationships and resolving interpersonal conflicts. Psychiatric nurses use IPT to address social and relationship issues that are contributing to a patient’s mental health challenges. They enhance communication and problem-solving skills to help patients build healthier relationships and reduce distress in their lives.

Medication management

Techniques can also be used to manage medication and ensure patients adhere to any medication schedules they have been prescribed.

Understanding medications

Psychiatric nurses educate patients about the purpose, potential benefits, and side effects of medications prescribed by psychiatrists. Understanding how these medications work and the potential interactions of psychotropic medications can help to address patients’ concerns and improve treatment adherence.


Psychiatric nurses also closely monitor patients for any medication side effects and adverse reactions. Regular check-ins and assessments allow nurses to promptly identify and address any concerns related to medication management. Nurses can adjust dosages or change medications if necessary.

Crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques

Techniques to manage or prevent crises can also be beneficial to patients, especially those who are already experiencing poor mental health. There are several ways to do this.

Identifying signs of a crisis

Trained psychiatric nurses can recognize the signs and symptoms of someone experiencing a crisis. These signs may include rising agitation, aggressive behavior, self-harm tendencies, extreme emotional distress, disorganized thoughts, or signs and suggestions of suicide. Nurses need to be observant to help spot early warning signs and intervene promptly to prevent the situation from escalating further.

Implementing de-escalation strategies to ensure safety

Psychiatric nurses use verbal and non-verbal strategies to calm the individual and reduce agitation. Some effective de-escalation techniques include remaining calm and using active listening. These techniques show the individual that they are not under threat and can create a sense of safety and trust.

Verbal reassurances, such as soothing and reassuring words can help de-escalate the patient’s anxiety or distress. Giving the patient some sense of control and autonomy can help to ease their feelings of powerlessness. It is also important that nurses avoid arguments or confrontations that may exacerbate the situation. Instead, they should respect the patient’s personal space.

Promoting a calm and supportive environment during crises

Creating a calm and supportive environment is critical in crisis intervention. Psychiatric nurses work collaboratively with the treatment team to ensure that the physical surroundings are safe and conducive to de-escalation. Some key elements of a supportive environment include reducing noise, bright lights, and other overwhelming sensory inputs to help the patient feel more at ease.

Offering comfort items, such as blankets or water, and engaging in distraction techniques can also help some individuals feel more at ease. This could involve encouraging the patient to participate in calming activities, like deep breathing or mindfulness exercises, to divert their attention from the perceived crisis. Contacting a family member or close friend can provide additional support too, if it is appropriate to do so.

Holistic approaches to treatment

In addition to traditional therapeutic interventions, psychiatric nurses often integrate complementary therapies into the treatment plan. Art therapy, music therapy, and yoga are examples of some approaches used in their techniques to support mental health recovery. These creative and mindfulness-based techniques provide patients with alternative outlets for emotional expression, stress reduction, and self-awareness. By offering a diverse range of therapeutic options, nurses can empower patients to explore and find what works best for them.

Encouraging self-care and lifestyle modifications

Holistic approaches to treatment emphasize the importance of self-care and lifestyle modifications in promoting mental wellbeing. Psychiatric nurses advocate for patients to adopt healthy habits such as regular exercise, balanced nutrition, sufficient sleep, and stress management techniques. 

Encouraging patients to engage in activities they find enjoyable and fulfilling instills a sense of purpose and contributes to overall mental health improvement. Empowering patients to take an active role in their self-care can create sustainable changes that complement traditional treatment interventions.

Encouraging patient self-advocacy and coping skills

Psychiatric nurses play a pivotal role in techniques that promote patient self-advocacy and equip them with coping skills to navigate life’s challenges. Through active listening and empathy, nurses encourage patients to express their preferences, concerns, and goals in their treatment journey. Additionally, they teach coping techniques that empower patients to manage stress, cope with triggers, and build resilience. By supporting patients in advocating for their needs and developing coping skills, nurses enhance their patients’ sense of control and confidence in dealing with their mental health conditions.

Monitoring and evaluation

Continuous monitoring and evaluation are essential components of effective psychiatric nursing care. Nurses regularly assess the patient’s response to treatment and track progress toward reaching set goals. This involves conducting ongoing assessments, such as outcome measurements and symptom checklists, to gauge the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions. Based on the assessment findings, nurses collaborate with the patient and the treatment team to modify the care plan as needed, ensuring it remains aligned with the patient’s evolving needs.

In addition to monitoring treatment progress, psychiatric nurses track patient outcomes to measure the effectiveness of interventions over time. By analyzing the outcomes, nurses can identify areas of improvement or potential barriers to recovery. Adjusting the care plan based on these insights allows them to tailor treatment and optimize patient outcomes. This approach to treatment ensures that patients receive the most relevant and beneficial care throughout their mental health journeys. Psychiatric nurses employ a diverse set of essential techniques, including establishing rapport, utilizing evidence-based assessments, implementing therapeutic interventions, and promoting a collaborative team approach. Ongoing professional development is essential, allowing nurses to stay informed of advancements in mental healthcare, and continuously refine their skills and adapt their techniques.

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