What Techniques Are Effective for Compassionate Communication With Stressed Patients?

    Authored By

    Nurse Magazine

    What's one technique you've found effective for maintaining compassionate communication with patients who are under a lot of stress?

    In the high-stress environment of patient care, maintaining compassionate communication is crucial. We've gathered six insights from psychologists and nurse practitioners, starting with acknowledging underlying emotions and culminating in relating through personal interests. These professionals share one technique each that they've found effective in ensuring their interactions with patients remain empathetic and supportive.

    • Acknowledge Underlying Emotions
    • Express Empathy and Support
    • Take a Step Back and Stabilize
    • Utilize Active Listening Techniques
    • Inquire and Communicate Compassionately
    • Relate Through Personal Interests

    Acknowledge Underlying Emotions

    I focus on acknowledging what someone is likely feeling under their stress. It's easy to get swept up in someone’s anxious energy or irritable mood when they’re under stress and forget that they’re also feeling vulnerable in some way.

    For example, we often are also feeling scared, isolated, or insecure under stress. Being able to see beyond the stress to a deeper emotional experience someone is having allows you to regain empathy and stay compassionate in your communication.

    Peggy Loo
    Peggy LooLicensed Psychologist , Manhattan Therapy Collective

    Express Empathy and Support

    One technique I've found effective for maintaining compassionate communication with patients who are under a lot of stress is empathy.

    Responding with empathy, acknowledging patients' feelings, and expressing understanding has been an extremely valuable tool for me. For example, "I understand this is challenging for you, and I'm here to support you," conveys compassion.

    You acknowledge the difficulty the person is facing with "I understand this is challenging for you." The second part, "and I'm here to support you," expresses a willingness to provide help and be a source of comfort, demonstrating a caring and supportive attitude during a challenging time.

    Dr. Jameca Woody Cooper
    Dr. Jameca Woody CooperClinical and Criminal Psychologist, Emergence Psychological Services/Dr. Jameca/

    Take a Step Back and Stabilize

    Whenever I have a patient under stress, I take a step back and don't try to heal the symptoms yet. It's not the time for inner exploration and reflection. In these situations, you must focus all your attention on stabilizing the patient.

    Show them that you're there for them. They must feel that you're listening to them and are available when they need you. And you do that by active listening. That is not done by being quiet and listening; it's done by paraphrasing what they say—this shows that you're engaged in what they are saying and that you are engaged in the situation.

    People under high stress don't need somebody telling them what to do and what not to do. This comes later. I put all my attention on trying to “mentally hug them.” I look them in the eyes, have an open body posture, and recite what they are saying—that way, you achieve a catharsis, a release of emotion through talking about their stress.

    I see that this often helps to calm the nervous system down. Once the stress settles, you can begin slowly with your therapeutic methods.

    Heythem Naji
    Heythem NajiPsychologist, heythemnaji.com

    Utilize Active Listening Techniques

    Active listening is a powerful technique for maintaining compassionate communication with stressed patients. It involves fully concentrating, understanding, responding, and remembering what's being said. Here's how it works:

    Pay Attention: Give your full focus to the patient. Maintain eye contact, use open body language, and minimize distractions.

    Show Empathy: Reflect their emotions to show understanding. For instance, "It sounds like you're feeling overwhelmed."

    Paraphrase and Clarify: Summarize what they've said to ensure you're understanding correctly. "Let me make sure I understand. Are you saying that...?"

    Ask Open-Ended Questions: Encourage them to share more about their feelings and concerns without leading them. "What's been the most challenging aspect for you?"

    Validate Their Feelings: Acknowledge their emotions without judgment. "It's completely understandable to feel this way, given the circumstances."

    Avoid Interrupting: Let them express themselves fully without interruption, which demonstrates respect for their thoughts and feelings.

    Offer Support: Show your willingness to help and support them. "I'm here to assist you through this. How can I best support you right now?"

    Follow-up: Summarize the conversation and check in on their feelings at the end. "It seems like we covered a lot today. How are you feeling about everything we discussed?"

    By practicing active listening, you not only create a safe space for patients to express themselves but also build a strong rapport based on trust and empathy, crucial for individuals experiencing high-stress levels.

    Rebbeca Lahann, Psy.D.
    Rebbeca Lahann, Psy.D.Psychologist and AASECT Certified Sex Therapist, Spectrum Psychology and Wellness

    Inquire and Communicate Compassionately

    Patients with chronic illnesses are often under a great deal of stress—physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Compassionate communication must include asking the patient how they are doing and being prepared to listen to their reply.

    Even if we cannot fix their circumstances, truly caring about their well-being and taking the time to inquire is incredibly meaningful and will allow the patient to feel heard and valued.

    Kathryn KreiderAssociate Professor and Nurse Practitioner, Duke University School of Nursing

    Relate Through Personal Interests

    You have to find a way to relate to your patients! Ask questions about their interests to find a topic that gets them excited.

    When a patient can talk about themselves, they tend to forget their stress. This is a distraction technique that helps patients feel truly cared about.

    Alex Morgan
    Alex MorganNurse Anesthesiologist, alexnjessica