Components of a Therapeutic Relationship

Therapeutic Relationship

One of the most important skills of a nurse is developing the ability to establish a therapeutic relationship with clients. For interventions to be successful with clients in a psychiatric facility and in all nursing specialties it is crucial to build a therapeutic relationship. Crucial components are involved in establishing a therapeutic nurse-patient relationship and the communication within it which serves as the underpinning for treatment and success. It is essential for a nurse to know and understand these components as it explores the task that should be accomplish in a nurse-client relationship and the techniques that a nurse can utilize to do so.


Without trust a nurse-client relationship would not be established and interventions won’t be successful. For a client to develop trust, the nurse should exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Friendliness
  • Caring
  • Interest
  • Understanding
  • Consistency
  • Treating the client as human being
  • Suggesting without telling
  • Approachability
  • Listening
  • Keeping promises
  • Providing schedules of activities
  • Honesty


Another essential factor to build a therapeutic nurse-client relationship is showing a genuine interest to the client. For the nurse to do this, he or she should be open, honest and display a congruent behavior. Congruence only occurs when the nurse’s words matches with her actions.


For a nurse to be successful in dealing with clients it is very essential that she empathize with the client. Empathy is the nurse’s ability to perceive the meanings and feelings of the client and communicate that understanding to the client. It is simply being able to put oneself in the client’s shoes. However, it does not require that the nurse should have the same or exact experiences as of the patient. Empathy has been shown to positively influence client outcomes. When the nurse develops and utilizes this ability, clients tend to feel much better about themselves and more understood.

Some people confuse empathizing with sympathizing. To establish a good nurse-patient relationship, the nurse should use empathy not sympathy. Sympathy is defined as the feelings of concern or compassion one shows for another. By sympathizing, the nurse projects his or her own concerns to the client, thus, inhibiting the client’s expression of feelings. To better understand the difference between the two, let’s take a look at the given example.

Client’s statement:

“I am so sad today. I just got the news that my father died yesterday. I should have been there, I feel so helpless.”

Nurse’s Sympathetic Response:

“I know how depressing that situation is. My father also died a month ago and until now I feel so sad every time I remember that incident. I know how bad that makes you feel.”

Nurse’s Empathetic Response:

“I see you are sad. How can I help you?”

When the nurse expresses sympathy for the client, the nurse’s feelings of sadness or even pity could influence the relationship and hinders the nurse’s abilities to focus on the client’s needs. The emphasis is shifted from the client’s to the nurse’s feelings thereby hindering the nurse’s ability to approach the client’s needs in an objective manner.

In dealing with clients their interest should be the nurse’s greatest concern. Thus, empathizing with them is the best technique as it acknowledges the feelings of the client and at the same time it allows a client to talk and express his or her emotions. Here a bond can be established that serves as a foundation for the nurse-client relationship.

Daisy Jane Antipuesto RN MN

Currently a Nursing Local Board Examination Reviewer. Subjects handled are Pediatric, Obstetric and Psychiatric Nursing. Previous work experiences include: Clinical instructor/lecturer, clinical coordinator (Level II), caregiver instructor/lecturer, NC2 examination reviewer and staff/clinic nurse. Areas of specialization: Emergency room, Orthopedic Ward and Delivery Room. Also an IELTS passer.

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