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Psychiatric nursing is a branch of medicine, dealing with individuals who have mental health illnesses, psychologic problems or emotional crises. Patients’ problems commonly relate to cognition, perception, communication, personal functioning, social behavior and coping. Unlike problems in other specialties, patient problems in psychiatric nursing cannot be readily assessed nor can interventions be done just by explaining a procedure and eliciting compliance. Suicidal ideation, self-esteem and anxiety cannot be evaluated using the senses alone in contrast to listening for breath sounds during auscultation. Though observation is an effective tool, it is sometimes insufficient. Insights about the patient’s mental, psychological and emotional state need to be substantiated by having the patient verbalize his thoughts, feelings, perceptions, decisions and ideas in general. Subsequently, interventions are meant to alter patterns of thought, perceptions and behavior assisting the patient towards what is normal, socially acceptable and effective.  

In psychiatric nursing, the functions of the nurse cannot be accomplished mechanically. The patient has to trust the nurse in order to open up, and the nurse has to be skillful and sincere in order to gain that trust. Therefore, an interpersonal relationship that begins upon patient admission until discharge has to be initiated. However, this must be directed towards the resolution of problems in order to be meaningful. In short, it should not be a social relationship but a therapeutic one. For this reason, Hildegard Peplau’s interpersonal relationship theory is the most applicable one. The theory defines what interpersonal relationship is, the roles of the nurse and as a process, it breaks it down into steps with objectives that need to be accomplished in order to move on to the next phase.  By doing so, it guides nursing practice as it becomes clear what should and should not be done by the psychiatric nurse.

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