Why It's Okay to Cry with Patients and Their Families

Why It's Okay to Cry with Patients and Their Families

By Katelynne Shepard, Contributor

In the medical profession, crying in front of a patient may have long been considered unprofessional, but growing awareness of the mental and emotional health needs of care providers like nurses may be changing that perception.

Whether you're working with a patient who is overwhelmed by their current situation, helping someone who has just received bad news like a terminal diagnosis or talking with family members after the loss of a loved one, letting your guard down and crying with them can have a host of benefits for both of you.

It makes you seem human

From the revealing, paper-thin gowns to having to press a button and ask to go to the bathroom, the healthcare system can make patients feel out of control and vulnerable. When you add in doctors in white coats who use big words and nurses coming in and out adjusting tubes and meds without saying anything, it's easy to see why patients can start to feel like healthcare providers are just robots moving from patient to patient and going through the motions.

However, showing your patients that you are human and do have emotions by celebrating with them during happy times and crying with them when they get bad news or experience a loss can help break the stoicism and show the compassion and care behind healthcare providers.

Nikola Djordjevic, MD and medical advisor with LoudCloudHealth, says, "When they see doctor's tears, patients receive the signal [doctors] are just as human as they are and that they care for each and every [patient] individually." This is true for nurses as well as doctors.

It helps show patients that they're more than a chart

As someone in the profession, you already know that the number of patients each nurse is responsible for on a shift can be daunting. It's easy to start to pay more attention to the monitors and charts than the patients themselves when things get busy, but showing emotion at appropriate times can help you bond with the patient and show them that you genuinely want to help.

Shilamida Kupershteyn, who practices as a licensed acupuncturist, says, "I cry with my patients because I have compassion for them. I want them to know that I feel their pain, I see them and it is my intention to help them genuinely."

While crying may not be appropriate for every situation, you can show empathy by sympathizing with the patient or family and sincerely expressing how sorry you are that they're dealing with such difficult things.

Crying with patients can help you deal with the stress of the job

Nursing is stressful. There are odd hours, long shifts on your feet, high patient loads and the inevitable times when you lose a patient even when you've done everything you can. While nurses learn early on to deal with these things by compartmentalizing or not getting too attached to patients, not properly addressing the stress and emotions you're experiencing can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout.

While crying in front of a patient because of your own issues may not be professional, crying with a patient is a different story.

Djordjevic explains that "crying with a patient can benefit both medical personnel and patient. Firstly, because it's a cathartic experience for medical staff given they're relieving stress, and secondly, because they're able to create a more meaningful bond with their patient."

Crying also causes physical changes in the body that can help you release stress and feel more positive once the emotion has passed, which can help you be in a better mental place to take care of the next patient or to go home to your family.

Crying with patients can be way to break down the barrier between care provider and patient and help you deal with the stress and loss that happens on the job in a healthy way. If you're not a crier, that's OK too. Just making a point to validate your patients' experiences and emotions can go a long way to helping them feel cared for.

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