Therapeutic vs. Nontherapeutic Communication in Nursing

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

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. 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.

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