Therapeutic Communication Techniques

November 4, 2022
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Communication is at the very heart of nursing, and since it is a profession based on helping people, that communication should ideally be as compassionate and warm as possible. This is where the idea of therapeutic communication comes in. Basically, you can think of therapeutic communication as having the best possible bedside manner.

In fact, the way you communicate as a nurse can have an impact on the healing and recovery process for your patients. Learning more about therapeutic communication, including specific techniques that can help you reach your patients, can enable you to make the biggest positive impact you can as a nurse.

What Is Therapeutic Communication?

Therapeutic communication refers to a set of techniques designed to focus on the overall well-being of people while you are interacting with them. This can include verbal, non-verbal, and written communication. The goal is to go beyond simply transmitting essential information to the patient, and instead offer healing and therapy through the communication process.

By incorporating therapeutic communication into your daily routine as a nurse, you can build trust and stronger connections with your patients while also engaging them in the treatment and recovery journey.

10 Techniques Nurses Can Use to Foster Therapeutic Communication

There are many ways to be a therapeutic communicator, and it should always start with warmth and empathy. Whether in a hospital or even their own home, many patients feel isolated, anxious, and are often in pain when receiving care. These primary techniques can help soothe and heal these feelings before any medical treatment is delivered.

1. Asking Open-Ended Questions

In contrast to close-ended questions, which give you a definite yes or no, or one-word answer, open-ended questions encourage conversation and help the patient to open up. So instead of asking a patient, “Does your head hurt today?” you can instead ask “Tell me about your symptoms today?”

2. Active Listening

Active listening in nursing involves tuning into everything a person is saying, including nonverbal cues and body language. The intention is to put what the person is saying in the larger context of their care and treatment while purposefully understanding and empathizing with their perspective.

3. Active Silence

Silence can be just as important as words for therapeutic communication. There can be a tendency to avoid silence and fill a conversation with words and information. But often, silence can be an important part of processing and understanding words that were just spoken, or provide an opening for the person to respond.

4. Focusing

Conversations can have a tendency to go off track. Often, nurses need to be able to kindly and subtly focus the conversation back on the objective of the conversation to be effective therapeutic communicators. Refocus by acknowledging the information they shared and transitioning to the next topic. For example, “I know the examination room can be cold, I get chilly too. Now, let’s get these diagnostic readings so we can get you out of this cold room.”

5. Paraphrasing and Restating

People want to be heard and understood, especially patients in stressful care situations. Often, by repeating what the patient just said back to them in a clear and friendly way, nurses can build trust and rapport by letting the patient know they are being heard.

6. Reflecting

If a patient is visibly upset or showing an emotional response, giving them a chance to express and reflect on these feelings can be very helpful and allow the conversation to move forward. It is important to gauge the patient’s state of mind correctly and encourage reflection in a way that does not sound condescending or make them defensive. Asking, “Am I right in assuming you are feeling a little down today? Do you want to talk about it?” in a warm tone can be very therapeutic to patients.

7. Acknowledging and Accepting

This goes back to helping patients feel heard. Using empathy statements such as “I hear you” and “I understand” are very affirmative and comforting to people in need and distress.

8. Providing Leads

This is a more advanced and specific form of open-ended questioning, typically used to get more specific information from a client. For example, you can say “Can you tell me what concerns you are having with your physical therapy?” if you want to gain information on their attitude and ability in this area.

9. Summarizing

Summarizing either all or part of the whole conversation helps to build trust and understanding with patients. Like other techniques, it shows that you have been listening to what they have said, while also helping to reinforce the information and instructions you have provided. This can be combined with reflective and leading questioning to ensure they understand the summary you just provided, or whether additional clarification may be needed.

10. Mindful Offering of Self

As a nurse, you should always keep the focus of communication squarely on the patient and their needs. You can offer up your time to your patient to show that you care and value your patient. Simply offering to stay during a meal or simply sitting with your patient can boost their mood.

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