Therapeutic Communication Techniques

Therapeutic Communication Techniques

We all know about the importance of communication, and how good communication can enhance relationships, working arrangements, help form bonds, and make drastic changes for the better in our lives. Typically we associate communication with the spoken word foremost, and maybe written communication.

But there are of course other forms of communication, and therapeutic communication can be a powerful tool.

What is Therapeutic Communication?

Therapeutic communication is commonly used by medical professionals such as nurses, using techniques to communicate with patients. Patients can’t always communicate by conventional methods, so nurses communicate by way of therapy, also known as psychosocial intervention.

Interpersonal communication is a process of communicating to someone by other means than verbal. Forming a connection and a level of trust and understanding between both parties. Nurses must be very adept at communicating, self-awareness, self-understanding, and have a philosophical way of reflecting on life, death, and conditions affecting human health.

Therapeutic Communication Techniques

Active Listening

Being attentive to the client, listening carefully to what they are saying both verbally and non-verbally. Sit or stand facing the person, have a friendly and open posture, make soft eye contact, and relax.

Sharing Observations

Be attentive and make observations, comment on what you are observing about the person. If you think the person looks hungry, ask if they need something to eat.

Sharing Empathy

Having the awareness to understand someone else’s feelings is an important skill. Sharing in their empathy and being sensitive to their feelings can help a person feel more comfortable. Make it known that you know they are finding it hard to communicate, give them time to communicate their feelings.

Sharing Hope

Being able to encourage others and fill them with hope can help them feel better. This isn’t always communicated verbally, people are good at reading body language or feelings when it comes to hope.

Sharing Humor

Humor is a great icebreaker, it can give people feelings of closeness, friendliness, and make people comfortable. It promotes positive communication and helps strengthen bonds.

Sharing Feelings

Being able to share feelings is a sign of good self-awareness and the awareness of others. It also promotes openness, not having barriers up when opening up to other people. This means helping and allowing a person to vent any feelings, from happy to angry.

Using Touch

Touching such as holding a hand, giving a hug, or feeling for painful areas is a powerful form of therapeutic communication. It can help clients who are in a lot of pain feel much better, and help strengthen the bond of trust.

Using Silence

Sometimes silence can speak volumes. Giving the nurse and client time to observe each other, address any feelings, consider what to say next, and think about what has been said so far. The nurse should wait for the client to break the silence when they are ready.

Providing Information

Providing relevant information is important to the decision making process. It can help subside anxiety, and allow the person to feel safe. Explaining the situation regarding someones health in a way that can be easily understood enables the person receiving the information the chance to digest it.

Clarifying Situations

A nurse should always put their message across clearly. Clarifying any possible misunderstandings and answering any questions the clients may have. Medical advice can often be ambiguous, and it’s the task of the nurse to clear up any misunderstandings.

Using Focus

Use focus techniques to single in on a single idea and get a clear message across. A nurse will often ask a client to describe their pain on a scale from one to ten, giving them a number to focus on.


Taking a communication from someone else paraphrasing it into a more brief and easy to understand message. For example, sometimes a client can find it difficult to find the words to describe their symptoms, while a nurse can articulate this message in a brief and easy to understand way.

Ask Relevant Questions

A nurse needs to compile as much information as possible to make an accurate assessments of a clients needs. This means asking relevant questions, and often open-ended questions so the client feels the need to give more information. It can be difficult with sensitive subjects, this is why it’s part of a nurses skill-set.


Reports and documentation will need to be written up, so summarizing information is a key skill. Being concise, accurate, factual, and giving all of the necessary information while not using ‘filler’ takes time to master.


Revealing personal things about oneself is often intentionally done to help relate to a situation a client is going through. Being able to say ‘I have had the same thing happen to me’, can bring people closer together. Feeling that someone else does not understand what you are going through is a common problem, so using self-disclosure at discretion is advised.


Helping the client to be more aware of their feelings and to communicate how they are feeling. Confrontation is only used when a nurse and client have developed a trusting relationship, and requires a high degree of social awareness.

Non-therapeutic Communication Techniques

There are a number of non-therapeutic communication techniques, these ways of communicating are to be done as an individual’s discretion. But on the whole are not recommended, think about the situation and how it needs to be handled. You should never do anything to escalate a problem, or be unclear and confrontational when trying to communicate a message.

Asking Personal Questions

Asking personal questions of people can cause embarrassment, and lead them to be less than truthful. If you need personal information, think about how you are going to approach asking for it.

Giving Personal Opinions

Before giving your own opinion to a situation, ask yourself how relevant it is. Instead of saying what you think is best for a situation, think about listing several options and allowing the client to consider them.

Changing the Subject

When a client is talking, no matter how unimportant you think it is, never cut them off and just change the subject. Work the conversation round to the new subject carefully, communicate carefully and sensitively.

Automatic Responses

Although you may be hearing similar questions on a regular basis, avoid giving stock automatic responses. People want to feel like they are being listened to and treated like individuals. So answer questions with the individuality it deserves.

False Reassurance

Don’t treat people like fools, false reassurance is easy to detect and can cause a client to lose all faith in someone. Just telling someone they will be fine is not good enough when you’re not sure. This doesn’t mean you can be all doom and gloom, but choose your words carefully and treat clients with respect.


Being sympathetic put the focus on the nurse’s feelings as opposed to the client’s and can cause confusion. It’s not displaying that they feel compassion, or understanding for the persons situation. Empathy is a more appropriate approach and shows understanding and strong communication skills.

Asking for Explanations

Asking “why” questions can come across as accusatory. Choose your questions carefully when talking to clients, you should always have their best interests at heart. Clients can easily misinterpret questions, and it’s difficult to rebuild any trust that’s lost.

Approval or Disapproval

Nurses should never out their own values, attitude, belief, moral’s, or any other standards on a client. You are not there to approve or disapprove their decisions, you should not be judging them. The role of a nurse is to give clear communication, getting across professional impartial advice.

Defensive Responses

Clients will often give their opinions across, sometimes emotionally fueled. This is not ok to respond defensively, nurse’s are trained to handle the situations professionally. Anger or confusion will only escalate if the nurse is being defensive, listening and being impartial is a key skill.

Passive or Aggressive Responses

Other emotions that will cause a situation to escalate are being passive or aggressive. Nurse’s should never act in either of these ways, otherwise conflict can arise. Aggressive responses will either cause an aggressive confrontation, or force the other person to shut down and feel intimidated.


Arguing and challenging things that are said by clients is not acceptable. It gives the impression that you think they are lying, being misleading, or wrong. These emotions can cause someone to become upset and lose confidence with their nurse.


Throughout this extensive list of therapeutic communication techniques you should have become aware of how different ways of communicating can provoke different reactions. Handling communication is a sensitive and skillful task depending on each individual situation, it’s not just about the verbal word. If you have any comments or think I have missed anything please drop a comment below.

Skip to content