Therapeutic dictionary, the word therapeutic comes from

Therapeutic communication can accomplish many goals, while nontherapeutic communication may inhibit patient centered care. Read further to explore Therapeutic vs. Nontherapeutic communication in nursing and patient interactions.


Communication is the verbal or nonverbal interaction between healthcare team members and their patients.

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But, where does the word therapeutic come into play? According to the 2016 edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word therapeutic comes from the Greek word therapeutikos, meaning to attend or to treat. There are many ways for a nurse to care for his or her patients, yet appropriate communication strategies are sometimes overlooked and underestimated. This lesson describes what therapeutic and nontherapeutic communication are, and provides realistic examples of both in the nursing setting.

Therapeutic Communication

Therapeutic communication occurs when the nurse interacts with a patient and their family members in a way that holistically appraises, or values, the patient. Learning how to therapeutically communicate with your patient can effectively address your patients’ needs and remains a critical strategy in the promotion of positive patient outcomes.Therapeutic communication is an umbrella term for various strategies used to better know and understand your patient’s baseline health, interest in participating in their care, and their receptiveness to follow medical recommendations.First, the nurse must be present and allow for communication to occur.

Intentionally remaining silent while the patient is visibly upset gives the patient an opportunity to talk. If the patient is quiet or has difficulty expressing their emotions, open-ended questions like, ‘Tell me how made you feel?’ or ‘It sounds like you’ve had a rough day, what is on your mind?’ may be encouraging for a timid patient.Next, active listening is also an effective therapeutic strategy to utilize when the patient does feel comfortable enough to express their thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Active listening requires the nurse to do more than simply listen to what is being said, it requires the nurse to remain engaged in the message and the context of what the patient is expressing, showing respect by maintaining eye contact (when appropriate), empathizing with the patient, and not interrupting them.Finally, the nurse must recognize his or her own personal bias.

In doing so, the nurse can limit the subjectivity of the interaction, and remain engaged as an objective advocate for health for the patient without the interference of personal feelings or experiences.

Non-therapeutic Communication

Non-therapeutic communication can lead to unintentional miscommunication between the nurse and the patient. As mentioned previously, therapeutic communication benefits both the nurse and the patient. It allows for the patient to express what is important to them, and it enables the nurse to advocate for individualized and holistic care. Logically, non-therapeutic communication does the opposite.Non-therapeutic communication negatively affects both the patient and the nurse in various ways. The patient may be less forthcoming with pertinent information if he or she does not trust their nurse.

This can also occur if the patient feels uncomfortable or if they feel they have been disrespected. When non-therapeutic communication occurs, it creates a missed opportunity for the nurse to explore, learn, and apply what is important to their patient. Most often, non-therapeutic communication occurs unintentionally. Some examples of non-therapeutic communication include, but are not limited to: completing tasks while the patient is talking about sensitive topics, not maintaining eye contact, asking closed-end questions, and allowing personal bias to interfere with prioritizing the patient’s personal values.


Therapeutic communication is comprised of various strategies and is an effective approach in caring for patients. This style of communication may require the nurse to spend more time with the patient to effectively explore not only the patient’s physical baseline, but also the psychological, and social level of health.

However, therapeutic communication will likely lead to a deeper insight of the patient’s reality and their ability to care for themselves outside of the formal healthcare setting.


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