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Occupational distress in nursing: a psychoanalytic reading of the literature

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Abstract:

Abstract 

Occupational stress in nursing has attracted considerable attention as a focus for research and as a consequence multiple objects of nurses' stress, or ‘stressors’, have been identified. This paper puts into question the dominant conceptual and methodological approach to occupational stress in nursing research by both foregrounding the notion of anxiety and juxtaposing it with the notion of ‘stress’. It is argued that the notion of ‘stress’ and the domination of the questionnaire have produced a narrow reading of the topic. Some of the literature on occupational stress/anxiety in nursing is reviewed and our analysis illustrates how the identified objects of stress have a tendency to multiply contingent on the number of studies undertaken. Thus definitive objects of nurses' stress remain elusive. We argue that a return to the notion of ‘anxiety’ and methodological approaches other than empirical ones can bring both depth and breadth to the consideration of occupational distress in nursing. Further, we argue that the object of ‘anxiety’ is unconscious, thus unknown, and given this, a more informative approach is to map nurses' response to anxiety, the discursive formations arising out of anxiety, rather than attempt to define those objects of anxiety.

Keywords: anxiety; literature review; nursing; occupational stress; psychoanalysis

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1466-769X.2008.00356.x

Affiliations: 1: Psychoanalyst (Private Practice), Albert Road, South Melbourne 3205, and 2: Professor, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Publication date: 2008-07-01

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