Why Therapeutic Communication is Key in Healthcare

A significant part of the healthcare provider process is the concept of “therapeutic communication.”

A significant part of the healthcare provider process is the concept of “therapeutic communication.” That term is often used in conjunction with nurses; however, it’s a process that shouldn’t be limited just to nursing. Therapeutic communication can be implemented by other healthcare professionals, friends, and family members of a patient.

Therapeutic communication should provide the patient with the confidence to play an active role in her healthcare.

How therapeutic communication can help healthcare providers do their job

Through the use of therapeutic communication (which involves active listening), healthcare providers are able to resist the urge to make assumptions about their patients. By facilitating effective therapeutic expressions, the healthcare provider is more likely to encourage the patient to share potentially difficult information, which can then be used by the provider for further investigation. This prevents the need for the provider to instill a certain level of “guesswork” in order to uncover the causes of a particular ailment. This open exchange between provider and patient also helps to build a sense of trust, which in turn nurtures constructive communication. This level of trust can also allow a healthcare provider to gain access to the patient’s network of friends and family, who may also  be able to provide helpful and pertinent information about the patient’s past.

But how can you instill therapeutic communication in your healthcare practice?

There are many ways to incorporate therapeutic communication into your healthcare practice, many of which involve the careful use of words. For example:

  1. The use of silence. Silence is oftentimes avoided; however, when communicating with someone who is likely in pain or scared, silence gives them the opportunity to speak on their own terms, without fear of being judged or corrected.
  2. Use general leads. General leads are neutral expressions that encourage continued talking by the patient, such as “Tell me about it,” or “I’m listening.”
  3. Make observations. By making observations (such as “You appear tense”) you’re validating and acknowledging the patient, and giving them the opportunity to talk about themselves, which admittedly most of us like to do.
  4. Reflecting. An example of reflecting would be to shift the question back into the patient’s court. If the patient asks, “Do you think I should tell the doctor,” a nurse might say “Do you think you should tell the doctor?” This places responsibility back on the shoulders of the patient.

Communication is more than words

Another important concept to remember is that communication is far more than words. In the animal world, species talk to one another through movement and body gestures. Humans are no different. If you’ve ever stood in front of a crowd with your arms and legs crossed, you just conveyed a message without saying a word. That message was insecurity. You were literally closing yourself off from others. When communicating with a patient, it’s important to remember that communication is more than words. Your body says a lot about what you’re feeling and thinking, and in turn can help or hurt your relationship with patients. Certain non-verbal cues to be on the lookout for include:

  1. Eye contact. Healthcare providers are busy, and they often scan the room, their clipboard, or the hallway during a conversation. What this tells the patient is that they are not your number one priority at the moment. But, in that moment, they must be.
  2. Distancing. When we physically distance ourselves from someone else, we’re suggesting that we’re either not interested in that person, or feel uncomfortable around them. Patients already feel uncomfortable and scared. They need to know someone’s in their corner, beside them, not 10 feet away.
  3. Crossed arms and legs. We discussed this above, but crossing your arms and legs are akin to closing yourself off to your audience. During the communication exchange between patient and healthcare provider, the provider is expecting the patient to be forthright with just about every piece of historical information from their lives (no matter how embarrassing). If you expect your patients to be that open, you have to present yourself as open as well, by not crossing your arms and legs.

No healthcare provider should expect to be an expert therapeutic communicator without the support and guidance of professionals in the field. In Australia, New Zealand and North America, healthcare providers turn to AACT-NOW to provide workshops and seminars designed to give them the skills needed to become better communicators. Photo by: https://www.flickr.com/photos/codnewsroom/ Creative Commons: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode