Many don’t realize how vital nurses often are in PTSD recovery. When it comes to this topic, there’s a sort of standard image that comes to mind. It typically involves a mental health professional performing cognitive therapy or exposure therapy on a patient (usually in a calm, cozy room rather than a typical doctor’s office or hospital alcove). This isn’t far off from what treatment can be like, and these types of therapies can in fact help people suffering from PTSD on their way to recovery. At the same time though, the standard image is also a little bit limiting, in that it tends to exclude other professionals — like nurses — who play an important part.
The truth of the matter is that nurses can be involved in virtually every aspect of the treatment process. They might be among the first responders if incidents occur with those suffering from PTSD. They may be patients’ first point of contact in a hospital or doctor’s office, and in some cases, they may help to practice therapeutic methods themselves. As with so many other areas in healthcare, the role of nurses in PTSD recovery is multi-faceted.
Because of this though, it can also be said that the true role or responsibility of nurses in PTSD recovery is to be trained, prepared, and primed to provide whatever care is possible. In this respect, three distinct types of preparation come to mind:
First and foremost, it is vital for nurses in a position to be involved with PTSD care to make sure that they are taken care of mentally. This is a concept that was touched on in a prior post on first responders for CPTSD, particularly in the time of COVID. As that post pointed out, the public has long ignored the mental health of those who care for and rescue them. Accordingly, it is all too common for first responders — including nurses — to be mentally burdened without having the time or inclination to address it. These are stressful, trying jobs, and unfortunately, it is often the case that they leave professional caregivers in no condition to help others (at least temporarily). Because of this, one of the most important things for any nurse involved in PTSD to do is to practice self-care and monitor personal mental health and wellness.
Another important initiative for a nurse involved in PTSD care can be to pursue higher education and degrees in nursing. This might once have been an unreasonable ask for a working nurse, but at this point, there is extensive opportunity for even practicing RNs to earn higher degrees and qualifications online. Specifically, online RN-to-BSN degrees now set nurses up to take on roles in management, education, and advocacy, which can lead to a more active part in organizing and directing PTSD care. Similarly, some with MSN degrees can seek out specialized instruction that may be directly related to treating PTSD. By no means are we suggesting that it’s nurses’ responsibility to pursue these options. But for those hoping to take a more active role in PTSD treatment and recovery, it’s another step that can be part of the process.
Lastly, nurses in a position to impact PTSD patients also need to remain open to some flexibility with treatments. For one thing, we know already that while exposure therapy is a sort of primary “go-to,” different patients will respond better to different situations. Additionally, there is always ongoing research producing potential new treatments, such as improved exposure therapy based on a better understanding of the brain’s learning processes. Basically, PTSD treatment is a dynamic field, and it is the responsibility of caregivers in the said field to remain open to change and adaptation, provided it is grounded in appropriate reason.
The role of nurses in PTSD treatment and recovery is vast, multi-faceted, and too often overlooked. It is a demanding role though, and one that is best approached with consideration of the practices and ideas discussed above.
Post specially written for cptsdfoundation.org
by Bette Jaeger