Widen your horizons to meet patients' needs

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Widen your horizons to meet patients' needs

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I attended the Other Psychotherapies – across time, space and cultures conference, organised by Medical Humanities Research Centre at the University of Glasgow over two days in April this year.

The talks covered mental health and psychotherapy, approached from a variety of angles: from classic works of Seneca and Plato to Jewish mysticism, from mindfulness to the modern film industry.

I particularly enjoyed the talks that explored the therapeutic value of nature and culture. Jonathan Coope talked about the disconnection with our environment as a source of modern mental illness. Introducing eco-psychology and green care, he suggested nature connectedness as a therapeutic framework and bridge in dialogue with other cultures.

It reminded me of Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens, a brief history of humankind. Harari talks about the agricultural revolution as the biggest tragedy in the history of humanity, blaming it for our struggle with mental and physical health until this day.

Speakers, Laurence Kirmayer, Robert Young and Lila Lieberman examined culture as a cure. Mr Kirmayer pointed at social, ecological and spiritual aspects of healing in indigenous mental health. Neglected for decades by evidence-based standards, they have been recently evaluated and adopted by trauma-focused approaches in Western psychotherapy.

Mr Young looked at the controversial and often rocky relationship between psychiatry and youth culture. Although modern subcultures can be a source of psychopathology, they also have a therapeutic potential – through providing useful coping strategies, peer social support and a sense of identity. With recent campaigns bringing awareness to the mental health of young people in UK, these arguments seemed to be worth exploring.

Ms Lieberman shared her own experience of common healing practices in indigenous communities in Africa. Embracing family history and ancestry is no longer looked down on by Western society. Despite a strong tradition of ‘living here and now’ many people look beyond the view of the current paradigm to interpret their problems through different epistemological channels.

One could easily ask about the value of exploring Ayurvedic psychotherapy, psycho-social geographies of social anxiety disorder or Plato’s view on handling negative emotions for a future mental health nurse working in Glasgow. There might be few answers to this question…

During my student clinical experience, I met patients who extensively explored beyond the medical domain in order to understand their struggles and find solutions for them. They refused to settle with the answer given to them by health services, searching for alternative answers in culture, art, philosophy and spirituality.

Furthermore, I came across patients who confessed that they struggle with the fact that nurses do not always meet their intellectual and discursive needs. Interestingly, they felt embarrassed and guilty for saying this, as if they expected a luxury not included in the service offer.

Nurses are at times criticised for abiding religiously by the medical model. This could make us blind towards other dimensions in mental healthcare. Exploring human life and mental suffering through the lenses of philosophy, phenomenology, different cultures and different times might be interesting as well as informative and professionally enriching. Medical humanities might not be everybody’s cup of tea. However, nurses are the biggest workforce in the health service and it brings the potential of diversity – that could help us meet every patient’s needs.

We do have a framework underlying our practice, and nursing is primarily about caring. However, mental health nursing is complex, multi-layered and unique. Simply being aware, interested and able to discuss other therapies with people who come to us for answers might be enough to widen horizons, add to our credibility, strengthen relationships and increase the therapeutic effects of our work.

Karina Krawiec is a third-year mental health nursing student, Glasgow Caledonian University