'Your experiences were your tools.' How personal experience of mental health problems informs mental health nursing practice
INTRODUCTION: Expertise by experience' is a highly valued element of service delivery in recovery-oriented mental health care, but is unacknowledged within the mental health nursing literature. AIM: To explore the extent and influence of mental health professionals' personal experience of mental ill health on clinical practice. METHOD: Twenty seven mental health nurses with their own personal experience of mental ill health were interviewed about how their personal experience informed their mental health nursing practice, as part of a sequential mixed methods study. RESULTS: The influence of personal experience in nursing work was threefold: first, through overt disclosure; second, through the 'use of the self as a tool'; third, through the formation of professional nursing identity. DISCUSSION: Mental health nurses' experience of mental illness was contextualised by other life experiences and by particular therapeutic relationships and clinical settings. In previous empirical studies nurses have cited personal experience of mental illness as a motivator and an aspect of their identity. In this study there was also an association between personal experience and enhanced nursing expertise. IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: If drawing on personal experience is commonplace, then we must address the taboo of disclosure and debate the extent to which personal and professional boundaries are negotiated during clinical encounters. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.