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Making a Difference: Utilizing Therapeutic Communication in Nursing

Guest Author: Jaime V. Pitner

June 04, 2021
therapeutic communication in nursing

Good communication is critical to the coordination and delivery of care; patients expect clinicians to be nice and explain things well.   

But does communication between the patient and the caregiver play a role in healing?

Can communication really be “therapeutic” to the patient?   

According to Campassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference, the answer is yes.

The authors, Anthony Mazzelli and Stephan Trzeciak, have compiled extensive research regarding the primary elements of healing, caring communication, and stress reduction; the results indicate that when a nurse actively shows their patients that they care, the outcomes tend to be positive. 

One of the biggest impacts of therapeutic communication in nursing is the ability to help reduce a patient’s stress; with the right words and approach, a clinician’s effective communication can enhance patient comfort.

Unfortunately, so little time and focus is ever spent on helping reduce stress in the healthcare setting.

It is evident that no one wants to go to the hospital, and even people who appear to be in good spirits are most likely feeling the effects of stress. 

It is common for our biological stress response to work against medical treatments and the healing process; it is often called our ‘Fight or Flight,‘ and stems from our instinctual response to actively defend ourselves or flee from danger. 

As healthcare providers, we must recognize the impact of stress on every patient and take steps to reduce their stress responses wherever we can.   

Therapeutic communication in nursing with patients and their families is the key to reducing the stress response and is an essential aspect of healing – it is just as important as the communication between your coworkers and colleagues.   

The moment you walk into the room, you can bring a presence of healing that is felt by the patient, even before a word is spoken. You must choose your words wisely to bring the best effect.

Not sure what I mean? Let’s look at a real-life example that we have all seen once or twice throughout our nursing careers.

Nurse-to-Patient Exchange Without Using Therapeutic Communication in Nursing

It is safe to say that we have all taken a patient’s blood pressure (BP) before, and we are quite familiar with the process as it is a fundamental routine, right?

As we focus on filling out the necessary BP documentation, what we often may not consider is how our patient is feeling during this encounter.

This brief, routine period offers an opportunity to provide comfort to our patients; let’s evaluate.

Jackie, a nurse, checks her next patient’s chart and sees that she needs her vital signs taken. The thought, “I just need to get those readings…” arises as she enters the room.

Upon entering Jackie politely says to the patient, “I just need to get your blood pressure…”

Jackie interprets the reading, inputs the values into the electronic medical record, thanks the patient, and leaves the room.

At this point, the patient may be wondering what their BP was, if it was good or bad, and bases their prediction on Jackie’s body language and demeanor prior to leaving the room; leaving room for potential stress to arise.

In this scenario, it is important to note that yes, Jackie was professional and performed her job correctly, but it is evident that her primary focus was on the numbers, charting requirements, and physician’s orders; not her patient, holistically.

Nurse-to-Patient Exchange Using Therapeutic Communication in Nursing

Let’s reevaluate this scenario but with Jackie utilizing both verbal and non-verbal forms of therapeutic communication in nursing.

 Jackie reviews her next chart and thinks, “I need to get a set of vital signs,” followed by a small, positive association about the patient, “Oh, that’s Mrs. Smith! She’s such a nice woman.”  

Upon entering the room, Jackie immediately smiles, makes eye contact with her patient, and says, “Hi there Mrs. Smith, how are you feeling?”  

The patient responds positively.  

Jackie then says, “I just need to get your blood pressure, it’s simply routine for my chart,” and gently applies the BP cuff.  

While the cuff is inflating, Jackie notices a drawing her patient has brought from her granddaughter. She says, “I love the drawing your granddaughter brought you, how old is she?” 

This is a powerful usage of positive imagery as the patient smiles and thinks about her granddaughter.  

As soon as the BP is done Jackie says, “Your BP is 132/74, that’s great!” She then thanks the patient, tells her to enjoy her rest of the day, and that the doctor will be in shortly.

From now on, think of yourself as a healing presence; make this your intention.   

Choose to use words in your thoughts and during patient interactions that are uplifting, energizing, and comforting; by doing so, you will find it easy and natural to employ therapeutic communication in nursing practices. 

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