2018 Rollout of Psychotherapy Essentials to Victorian AMHs

Phase One of the CPN’s rollout of Psychotherapy Essentials for Mental Health Nurses to Victorian community mental health nurses is on track for the first half of 2018.

Developed by the CPN, it is a 10-day training program designed to equip community mental health nurses with psychotherapy skills that are specific to nursing practice, and oriented towards supporting consumers in their self-defined recovery journeys. The program is supported by the Victorian DHHS and the Office of the Chief Mental Health Nurse.

“We talk about therapeutic engagement and therapeutic skills, and I think this is a training program that will show nurses really what that means,” says Victorian Chief Mental Health Nurse Anna Love. “This [program] is really key to building the capacity of our workforce, but also I think the exciting thing about it [is] a new scope of practice for nurses. To actually to see nurses as therapists would be a really positive change”.

Psychotherapy Essentials builds on the strengths of an earlier educational pilot, Therapeutic Foundations in Mental Health Nursing, which was developed in 2015 by Spectrum at Eastern Health. Robert Trett led the team that developed the pilot program when he was Associate Clinical Director at Spectrum. In his current role as Nursing Lecturer for the CPN, Robert has brought continuity from that project to the development of Psychotherapy Essentials.

Robert has worked as a MH nurse since the 1980s and in the 1990s trained as psychotherapist. He connects a resurgence of interest in psychotherapeutic nursing, in part, to its relevance to the consumer recovery movement.

“I think that a psychotherapeutic approach is really applicable to many of the ideas that consumers have been advocating for”, says Robert.

“The focus is much more on ‘talk’, and much less on medication as the ‘main’ treatment. At its best, psychotherapy entails openness to different ways of understanding personal experiences, and more commitment from health professionals to exploring personal  meanings rather than automatically attributing people’s experiences to ‘illness’,” he says.

Robert’s early experiences as a mental health nurse in the New Zealand health system occurred in psychodynamic IPU’s where emphasis was on psychotherapy interventions, “where I learnt individual and group therapy methods on the job”.

“I’ve learned that being of real help to people is an emotional journey,” he says. “You’re in a therapeutic space with someone you hardly know and who hardly knows you and neither of you know where it’s going. Bit by bit people’s stories emerge and they start to gravitate toward the things that are valuable about themselves and their relationships. I see our job as keeping the process focused on the persons’ ideas, values, choices and decisions”

Psychotherapy Essentials will provide a range of benefits to community mental health nurses, says Robert, including “supporting nurses to feel more confident to adapt clinical approaches and ideas to consumers’ individual and cultural needs”, and “providing support and encouragement to put collaboration, therapeutic alliance and empathy to the forefront of nursing practice”.