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February 18, 2003

Prof jumps into mental health debate

There’s a debate underway in mental health nursing about the causes and proper treatments of mental illness.

And CSUS nursing professor Bonnie Raingruber has found herself at the center of it.

Many of her peers are trying to shift the focus of their profession to drug-based treatments, and away from a holistic approach that includes extensive personal interaction. They’re arguing for a “nature” instead of “nurture” approach, with the assumption that mental illness is solely a biological problem.

Raingruber believes they’re wrong. She says mental illness has social, cultural and environmental roots, as well as biological ones.

She recently defended her position at a national nursing conference in a debate with Wanda Mohr, a leading researcher who supports the drug-based approach. Afterwards, Raingruber received a standing ovation, though the professional debate is far from settled. She’s been asked to take part in a second debate on the West Coast.

“My argument is that we need an integrated approach in which one person can provide nurturing and, when needed, prescribe the drugs,” Raingruber says. “Mental health nursing needs to challenge the idea of treating people in small bits, and care for the whole person.”

She says many patients – perhaps half according to some research – don’t respond to drug treatments.

In fact, Raingruber’s research over the years suggests personal interactions and intense therapy are often at the heart of successful treatment.

Raingruber’s graduate research focused on interactions between psychiatric nurses and patients. She has since published numerous articles on the topic in both Perspectives in Psychiatric Care and the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association.

“The better you know the person, the better you are able to help them,” Raingruber says. “It’s kind of like a friend who knows you so well they can hear the importance of a tone and get much more from a simple comment. When you know the patient, when you provide therapy for a patient, you can get much more from a simple conversation.”

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