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Therapeutic communication is the establishment of a connection between a patient and a care provider. It is a key component of health care delivery, used to ensure that patients understand their conditions and recommended courses of treatment. Patients also tend to be feel more comfortable when they feel supported and attended to by the people around them. This can create a trusting relationship, which may lead to more open discussion on the part of the patient, including disclosures of symptoms that may be of concern for the medical team.
Health care providers learn about the fundamentals of therapeutic communication in training and have an opportunity to practice in clinical skills labs. Sometimes referred to as “bedside manner,” communication involves consciously thinking about word choices, body language, tone, and other signals. Care providers who are brusque or appear judgmental are less likely to establish trust. Others may not feel supportive if they seem edgy, nervous, or worried. Someone who communicates calmly and effectively can make a patient feel comfortable and relaxed.
This process can start early, as the care provider connects with the patient and learns more about preferred communication style. Hospital and clinic environments are often intimidating for patients, and they can be put at ease by a friendly health care professional. Skilled therapeutic communication can be used to extract important information, talk to patients about the situation, and work with patients on treatment. Talking is one form of communication, but care providers can also act as observers, watching for body language and other warning signs, like a patient who appears reluctant to discuss a particular topic.
Another issue with therapeutic communication can be patients who are unable to communicate verbally, or who might have trouble hearing. Care providers may work with hearing impaired patients, people with brain injuries, and other people who may not be able to communicate in a style that is familiar for the clinician. This can require adaptations, like working with an interpreter or using a communication board. If someone can adapt quickly to establish communication with a patient, this can increase the patient’s sense of value and self-worth; someone with a brain injury, for instance, might open up to a nurse who is willing to meet on the patient’s own terms.
Refining therapeutic communication skills can be an ongoing process. As people acquire experience with different patients and communication styles, they can apply this to patient care in new environments. Workshops and seminars are available to help working care providers improve their communication skills for better patient care.