What is known about the subject?
In the context of health and social care, situations at the limit or beyond the role of the professional, such as falling in love and physical attraction between a client and a nurse, are very common events.
In residential contexts, the construction of the professional relationship is made more complex than in other care contexts since sharing daily life, routine, constant contact and isolation contribute to making relationships more intense from an emotional point of view.
Moreover, the same elements that promote the therapeutic process (interpersonal closeness, self-disclosure, trust) are also sources of role ambivalence and possible emotional misunderstandings.
What does the paper add to existing knowledge?
In contrast to what is usually proposed in the literature for the management of similar situations, such as supervision by experts external to the team, this paper proposes a strategy of supervision between peers (called in literature “intervision”) and of taking charge of the situation by the entire team and the group of service users.
What are the implications for mental health nursing?
The story here presented offers a key example that may be of interest not only to residential centres for substance users but also to all residential mental health communities. It shows not only that one can fall in love, but that this event can generate new opportunities for the therapeutic pathway.
The risks associated with not addressing these situations are discussed. These include the restriction of the feeling of falling in love within the canons of error; the attribution of what happened to personal characteristics and the assumption of guilt for such occurrences.
The care pathway within a mental health service can create situations of strong emotional impact, including physical attraction and falling in love. This may evolve in moments of impasse for the staff and sometimes compromise the success of therapeutic treatment.
This article offers some evidence about how intervene in a situation such as a client falling in love with a nurse, avoiding transforming it into a problem. The fear of the nurse, maybe already inclined to blame themselves for what has happened, when he/she asks for supervision, is to feel judged also by the supervisor. This story teaches that to refer to figures from outside the team, as would usually be the case with supervision, may be replaced by enhancing the role composition already available in the residential community as a resource.
The story was listened and enhanced thankyou to an exchange between M. and the community manager. From the analysis of the narratives co-produced by M., the former substance user, and the community manager, the elements that made it possible to transform a feeling of falling in love into an interaction of extended trust emerged.
Results and Discussion
The non-judgmental and confidential context, but above all the training in interpersonal exchange, facilitated the client sharing very intimate and private experiences, which are usually hidden or denied. This made it possible to make the community responsible for the individual’s experiences and to overcome the role impasse and the related identity dilemma.
Implications for Practice
Neither nurses nor clients should be held accountable or blamed when these episodes occur. The strongest resource is sharing in the group and putting one’s own experiences into play. Following the M. story, a targeted confrontation between team members and clients is an accessible and effective resource to respond to situations of strong emotional impact, falling in love being just one example; however, it can be effectively activated only through a collective taking charge of the individual’s difficulties has already been implemented.