Joseph Giovannoni, DNP, PMHCNS-BC, APRN-RX
2019 Award for Innovation – Individual

Joseph GiovannoniAt the heart of Joseph Giovannoni’s work is compassion. Working with sexual offenders and victims of sexual abuse, he is confronted each day with the stigma surrounding a challenging and often underserved population. Through his innovative work, he has established a practice model guided by theories based on loving kindness and compassion. “It is important to be a role model of compassion if we are going to expect others to model that compassion…My clients have been more cooperative and changed their behavior as they were treated with human dignity,” Joseph says.  As a result of his innovative approach, individuals on probation receive compassionate care and better meet probationary requirements, and survivors of sexual abuse find healing through self-compassion. In recognition of his achievement, Joseph is the 2019 recipient of the APNA Award for Innovation – Individual.

At a Glance
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Passion:
Compassionate care

Words of Wisdom to Future Nurses:
“Embrace this role: it is a covenant to humanity to assist individuals with mental illnesses.”

How He Connects:
“Centering oneself – pausing and taking a breath – is incredibly important. Use that moment to look at the spirit-filled person and their capacity to evolve.”

As an advanced practice nurse in a private practice setting, Joseph has spent more than 4 decades providing care to sexual offenders and victims of sexual abuse. Though he never anticipated it, Joseph felt drawn to working with this population out of a desire for understanding. “I was a victim of sexual abuse,” Joseph explains. “Throughout the course of my journey, I knew even being abused served a purpose for me to do this work…the reward is to see the capacity for individuals who have lost a sense of compassion for themselves and others transition from that mindset to one of self-compassion and compassion for others.”

About six years ago, inspiration struck in the form of his colleague Jean Watson’s Caritas Nursing Model and the Theory of Transpersonal Caring. Incorporating the practice of loving kindness and compassion for both self and others into care, Joseph created a new collaborative practice model for forensic populations. By modeling compassionate behavior with this population, Joseph is able to help them find healing. “Much of this population had adverse childhood experiences that contributed to poor impulse control,” he explains. “Their pre-frontal lobe is constantly in a fight or flight response…implementing compassion and human caring is extremely important to address this.” The results are extraordinary: “I haven’t had any recidivism since I started with this new approach,” says Joseph. "I’ve had more cooperation and fewer people returning to prison.”

Joseph has expanded the reach of this model by introducing it to probation officers to facilitate community safety. “This model has been implemented and researched with significant outcomes for a unique, neglected, and stigmatized judicial population of probation officers as well as persons who are in the criminal justice system labeled as sex offenders,” Watson says. Wailua Brandman, who nominated Joseph for this award, elaborates, “This nursing model was used for the first time to improve the care provided to sex offenders in the Hawaii judiciary system…Joseph introduced [this process] to probation officers who were then able to be more caring, transparent, and authentic when meeting with probationers.”

In implementing this model, Joseph finds that individuals are more amenable to care and that he is more emotionally resilient. “[This theory] not only transformed my practice, but it also transformed the judicial system in Hawaii,” Joseph says. “When I started integrating this theory into my work, it not only helped me lower my own stress – not that I’m free of it! – but also helped me to be able to be in a more transpersonal relationship with these men labeled as sex offenders.” His work with survivors of sexual abuse has been impacted by this model as well – particularly when it comes to the concept of self-compassion. “Becoming a survivor is a constant process of monitoring your own thinking,” Joseph says.  “With this population, it’s very easy to feel victimized again…We have to be aware of that pain and the wounding. In psychiatric-mental health nursing, if you look beyond the layers, you see the potential for your own darkness and your own struggles. It is really important to be aware of ourselves and practice this loving kindness and self-compassion. Self-compassion is extremely important for personal healing.”

Joseph’s advice for future psychiatric-mental health nurses reflects the importance of not only providing care to patients but to oneself. “Embrace this role: it is a covenant to humanity to assist individuals with mental illnesses,” he says. “Centering oneself – pausing and taking a breath – is incredibly important. Use that moment to look at the spirit-filled person – their capacity to evolve.” We are thrilled to be celebrating Joseph’s achievements at the APNA 33rd Annual Conference this fall in New Orleans.

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