I’m reaching the end of my psychiatry placement, and I have to admit, it’s been a tough one. Not only have I been exposed to emotionally-wearing situations, but I’ve also learned a lot about my judgments. In other words, I am far more judgmental than I thought I was. Oh, and I also lack patience.
I’ll be honest; my psychiatry placement has been my least favorite so far. However, as part of my self-development journey, I recognize that we can all learn lessons in every situation. The most significant lesson I have learned is that ‘leaning in’ during your psychiatry placement is more crucial than doing so in any other medical specialty.
Hold on a second, what does “leaning in” mean?
Leaning in is a buzzphrase initially coined by Sheryl Sandberg. To cut a long story short, Sandberg coined the phrase and wrote a book as part of a feminist movement. I’m not applying this in a feminist context, though. Instead, I am using it to show that when we’re resistant to a situation such as a super-depressing psychiatry placement, we need to accept the position we’re in and seize every opportunity to learn.
So, I would like to suggest that in this context “leaning in” means being attentive, remaining objective, and removing personal judgment from the patients you sit in front of. Also, you need to see that each person you interact with is an opportunity to learn and broaden your life experience.
Remaining attentive during your psychiatry placement
I have to admit; this one is a bit of a struggle. While some people may go off on tangents, others will rattle off buzzwords that seem too textbook to be true. In other words, they’re seeking a specific diagnosis. They’re not experiencing the symptoms they’re describing, but they’re expressing symptoms as though they have a transparent patient.co.uk information sheet sat on their laps.
Because of this, the desire to zone out during psychiatry placements is real. During my placement, I had minimal interactions with the patients. So, I was supernumerary and, therefore, a bored observer. On several occasions, I became frustrated and started focusing my mind towards the future, thinking about how I could be writing or blogging, and daydreaming about my other half.
Once I realized I was doing this, I actively forced myself to be attentive. As you’ll already know, being alert when you’re in a situation that bores or frustrates you is a struggle. However, there are ways to approach this.
Acknowledge your emotions and see the situation from the point of love
At the moment, I am going through a phase of reading several ‘self-help’ and ‘spiritual’ books. I’m on a mission to build my connection with the Universe. One recurring theme is that we need to accept and feel our negative emotions when they crop up; immediately. Then, we approach the situation from the point of love. It may sound a little too ‘hippyish,’ but it’s truly effective. When you start to look at a person’s position from the point of love and move past your judgmental viewpoint, you learn about a wealth of life experiences and how they shape a person’s character.
Absorb what that person is saying and consider why they’re saying it
If there’s an environment where you can learn a good lesson in how to spot hidden agendas, it’s a psychiatry placement. I’d like to emphasize here that I am not saying this from a perspective of judgment. However, I have observed a particular behavior that I find very interesting.
Today, we all have the power to self-diagnose. Dr. Google is at our fingertips via our phones, laptops, and tablets. I have noticed that many a patient will enter the environment uttering buzzphrases or describing symptoms in a textbook fashion, without any real indication that they suffer from the diagnosis they’re seeking. This isn’t just something I’m observing as a layperson either. Professionals ranging from nurses to psychiatrists recognize it too.
Why do they do this? Because we have created a society where living in fear provides protection, and where being a victim confers benefits of all kinds. However, hidden agendas aren’t the only reason for people shaping what they say. They may want to hide something from you, and you won’t know why without a little digging. In either case, approaching the person from a position of love and with intent to empower is essential.
Observe how others interact and learn their skills
Once you begin to recognize how and why people may shape what they’re saying, you start paying attention to the professionals around you and learn from their skills. Each person on this Earth has an ability they can teach you, and your psychiatry placement is the perfect environment for learning. While they may have the same skills as you, they will use them differently. You may not consciously learn and recognize the different ways they use them, but your subconscious mind will absorb them and allow you to employ them later.
For example, I have taken note of the way one nurse preps patients for a therapy they’re otherwise not interested in; EMDR. I won’t explain it here, but feel free to go off and learn about it. Because it’s entirely left-field, not everyone is open to it. But, it’s massively successful, especially for those who are suffering from PTSD. Part of that success depends on the patient being open to the treatment. While observing one nurse interact with a patient, I noticed how she gently laid the groundwork for using this therapy with a man who otherwise wouldn’t consider it. She knew that he was in the pre-contemplative stage of entering a period of change and approached him accordingly.
Create a reflective diary
You are going to meet so many different people. They’ll come from diverse backgrounds. Their stories might shock, surprise, or even bore you. Whatever happens, put ten minutes aside each day to write a reflective diary.
One benefit of writing a reflective diary is that it allows you to return later and analyze your emotions, how you reacted to a situation, and how you can respond differently in the future. The aim is to learn and shape your approaches so that you become a better practitioner in future and deliver patient-centered care.
Or, your reflective diary may focus on how someone else interacted with a patient. You don’t have to like what they said or did, but you do have to state why you didn’t like it. Then, you have to reflect further and suggest what you would do differently. Traditionally, healthcare and medical students of all kinds hate reflective diaries; mainly because they’re forced to write one as part of an assignment. However, when you use reflective practice because you’re prompting yourself to, your ability to deliver excellent patient care will soar.
When you ‘lean in’ during your psychiatry placement, you benefit in lots of ways.