From mental health nurse to lecturer

Guest posts

Faculty: Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care
School: School of Nursing and Midwifery
Course: BSc (Hons) Mental Health Nursing
Category: Nursing and midwifery

11 January 2018

I’ve come a long way since I trained as a mental health nurse in 1983. Nursing has led me to a career in therapy, lecturing and research. It’s an interesting ride.

Lecturer Dave Hawkes

I trained as a mental health nurse in 1983 in what was the last few years of the old 'asylum' system at Warley Hospital in Brentwood in Essex (a vast hospital with huge grounds, a good social club and its own church and farm!).

After working on the wards for a year or so, I went to the Park Hospital in Oxford working on a specialist unit for children with mental health issues; it was also the national centre for epilepsy. Working with quite young children with mental health issues was challenging, and working with families and specialist consultants in epilepsy was interesting.

This led to me training in family therapy and in group psychotherapy. I then became a senior nurse in a therapeutic community. Therapeutic communities worked with a range of serious mental health problems using group therapy and psychotherapy rather than medication. I then ran a number of family therapy clinics.

In 1992, I trained in Milwaukee, USA, with American therapists in a new model, Solution Focused Brief Therapy, and brought this back to the UK – publishing a number of papers and a book on this therapy and how nurses could use it to work with people described as depressed, self harming, and schizophrenic. My Masters degree was in hearing voices and my research looked at what people hearing voices experience and what helps.

I joined Anglia Ruskin University as a lecturer in mental health nursing in 2001, because I always loved teaching student nurses and am fascinated with the big ideas in mental health: What is a hallucination? What is 'normality'? What do you say to someone when you don’t know what to say? Now I teach student nurses from all backgrounds, while still supervising qualified staff from a number of professions and running therapy groups and therapy sessions.

My new interest is in a model of communication that I helped develop here at Anglia Ruskin called the VERA approach. This has been published in Nursing Standard and is an exciting way to help people with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

I’ve come a long way since I walked up the hill at Warley Hospital as an 18 year old. Nursing has led me to learn a lot about myself and others, and to a career in therapy, lecturing and research. It’s an interesting ride.


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