'The one thing you need to be is assertive'
I’ve just finished a placement in a respite unit for adults experiencing a mental health crisis and if there’s one thing that I’ve learnt it’s when you work in this area, you need to be assertive.
I’m naturally quite an assertive person but at times I was worried that I was coming across as quite “mean.” I was reassured that this wasn’t the case and that for patients who are quite often confused and frightened, being assertive is one of the best things you can do for them. It might be difficult at first, so I reflected back on my placement and thought of a few tips that might help with being assertive.
1. Be calm
Assertion and aggression are not the same thing, but there is a fine line between them. When talking to your patients it’s important that what you say comes across in the right way. Being assertive is about communicating coherently, essential in developing a therapeutic relationship with your patient. Maintaining a cool and collected manner means your patient is more likely to take on board what you say. Speaking calmly and slowly makes it easier for your patient to hear what you say. If you are finding it difficult to work with a particular patient, it’s important to keep your cool. There’s nothing wrong with taking five minutes to collect yourself and come back to the situation.
2. Be confident
If a patient asks you a question and you are umm-ing and aah-ing over it, it could undermine any authority you have and make the patient more likely to question your judgment in future situations. If you don’t know the answer to something it’s perfectly acceptable to say “I’m not sure of the answer to that, but let me pass this on to somebody who does.” Body language plays a huge role in this as well. Maintain eye contact with your patient (if appropriate) and keep your stance open. If you show your patient you are listening to them, they’ll be more likely to listen to you.
3. Be consistent
On this placement I worked with a patient who had severe anxiety. They would ask me the same question over and over for the entire shift. I soon worked out that the most effective way for me to communicate with her was to give her exactly the same answer each time. It didn’t alleviate her anxiety completely, but it did reduce it somewhat. Other members of staff on shift ensured that they did the same and communicated with on another to make sure this was as consistent as possible.