Section Three

Pedagogy in Mental Health and Addiction Nursing Curricula

Best practice pedagogy underlying mental health and addiction content in nursing curricula is diverse. Some of the diversity is reflected in the nature of the language used to talk about mental health, or psychiatric nursing, or whether a medical model or psychosocial framework is used. The need to prepare nursing students for mental health and addiction practice should motivate and inspire educators’ interest in developing students’ critical thinking and skills in all areas of  mental health. In such, educators should also keep an outlook for new pedagogies to stimulate learning.

Methods of best practice teaching approaches are limited, but some approaches include the following.
1. Blended Learning: There is evidence that the blended learning model, which combines traditional face-to-face learning and e-learning, is an effective structural approach to help mental health nursing students recognize and resolve clinical, theoretical and ethical dilemmas. The practice of blended learning provides students with a useful ability to observe the process of supervision and use information technology to enhance clinical skills (Rigby et al, 2012). 

2. Problem Based Learning (PBL): Learning through the experience of solving an open-ended problem is an active pedagogy shown to be useful for teaching mental health nursing students. It may have the added benefit of impacting practice post-graduation. Furthermore, students who have been exposed to PBL may require fewer hours of theory to attain learning outcomes, such as positive attitudes toward mental illness, among others (Cooper & Carver, 2012; Happell, B., Moxham, L. & Platania-Phung, C (2009). 

3. Inquiry Based Learning (IQL): While similar to PBL in that it is open-ended learning, IQL follows different steps starting with the sudent exploring a theme and choosing a research stream to focus on; formulating a question and pursuing a plan of research that is rooted on critical thinking, which is applied to the central question. Educators play a pivotal role in IQL, assisting in a collaborative manner with planning, assessment for learning and the advancement of individual as well as classwide understanding of personally meaningful content and ideas (Fielding, 2012). 

4. Simulation: Simulation is a pedagogy that involves a range of activities that imitate something real, a state of affairs or a process to achieve educational goals (SIM-one, 2016). The purpose of simulation aims to improve safety, effectiveness and efficiency in healthcare (SIM-one, 2016). Simulation is actively used in some curricula however there is considerable variation in nursing programs in terms of: a) the amount of use; b) how it’s used and c) when in the nursing program SIMS is used. For more information, please see Section 7.2.

A range of teaching and learning opportunities and use of different pedagogy is best to impart mental health, illness and addiction knowledge to students. Some teaching approaches rely heavily on the experiential and relational component of mental health nursing in an effort to understand stigma and other attitudinal factors that are part of the mental health work of nurses (Waugh, McNay, Dewar & McCaig, 2014; Stuhlmiller, 2006). The use of case studies as well as online discussions can help facilitate experiential and relationship components (Silva, Furegato & Godoy, 2008). Most educators would agree that a relational nurse who is aware of the role that stigma plays in the experience and care of individuals with mental health concerns is not enough, and that excellence in mental health nursing includes a sound knowledge base of the current theories and best practices of mental illness, as well as the complex interplay of psycho-social-health determinants on the experience of clients and their treatment.

Educators should utilize ‘learning together’ approach with students where educators use active and experiential learning, keeping an open mind when educating nursing students. Teachers are also learners, they learn from students, clients and family.

Educator learning approaches checklist


  • Adopts and develops a collaborative, strengths-based, student-centred “learning together” approach to teaching (Gros, 2007).
  • Acts as a facilitator, stimulator, coach, motivator of student learning.
  • Creates an open, supportive and safe learning environment: “My role is to help you learn and succeed.”
  • Uses interactive teaching approaches to make learning fun and engaging.
  • Supports student life, outside interests/recreation; attends student/faculty social events.
  • Fosters self-awareness, insight, self-assessment for themselves and the student, supports student initiative, autonomy and decision-making.
  • Is sensitive to student work load/stress levels and responds accordingly.
  • Keeps readings and course work to a minimum.
  • Sets realistic expectations (collaborates with students to set goals).
  • Offers choice/self-selection of clinical placements.
  • Remains available and accompanies students throughout the course and clinical stage: “This is a journey; We’re in this together.”
  • Acknowledges student stressors and work load issues; responds accordingly.
  • Acknowledges uncertainty and anxiety re: clinical stage; focus on learning process.
  • Begins where students are “at”; proceeds at student pace; breaks down learning objectives into small, achievable goals.
  • Fosters co-operative peer learning and support, and a non-competitive class environment.
  • Remains flexible and works to accommodate student needs and interests.
  • Supports student self-reflective practice.
  • Supports students active participation in class activities, understanding students’ comfort level while further developing students’ skills.