You may be studying this course for a variety of reasons. You may have expressed some of these in terms of how you would like to do things differently or you may have a desire to develop and enhance your therapeutic communication skills.
Whatever the reason may be, you have now embarked upon a unique personal journey of discovery.
In this first lesson, we will consider the term therapeutic communication by exploring the work of Paul Wachtel on therapeutic communication, Carl Rogers on therapeutic core conditions and Gerard Egan on empathic understanding.
This conceptual analysis reflects the importance of self-awareness when engaging in therapeutic communication to maximise the benefit for clients.
Therapeutic communication is a complex but essential element in the healing process and, although not all people want to be counsellors, all caregivers and practitioners need to be able to communicate effectively with their clients.
Therapeutic communication is therefore more than counselling. It is about providing companionship, emotional support and information about solving life’s problems. (Flannery 2004 )
It is about how to move from understanding the patient to putting that understanding into words. The aim of therapeutic communication is to examine what the therapist can say that can contribute to the process of healing and change. (Wachtel 1993 )
A study at Miami University’s Family and Child Studies Centre revealed that the greatest need among married couples is for effective communication, the mutual sharing of ideas and feelings that lead to a common understanding.
Therefore an ingredient needed in therapeutic communication is the ability to communicate from the same source.
Note: In this course, the term practitioner is used in a generic sense to describe people who practise helping clients within a voluntary or professional context.
There are two sources of communication:
1. THE MIND – Communication from the mind is described as COGNITIVE; it is logical, factual and analytical.
For example, “We need to manage our finances better to ensure our household bills are paid on time.” (Fact)
2. THE HEART – Communication from the heart is described as AFFECTIVE; it is expressed through our emotions because of a need or a desire. It tends to be intuitive and impressionistic.
For example, “Although the extra money is helpful (Fact), I feel lonely when you work away from home.” (Emotion)
These sources of communication give rise to understanding the motivational forces of self and others, formed through the processes of nature, nurture and life experiences.
Awareness then of our built-in preferences enables us to begin to know and therefore give of ourselves by communicating on the same level as the client.
Becky was having difficulty engaging with a client because of various distractions and her personal assumptions and prejudices. She discussed her concerns with her supervisor who offered some helpful advice:
• Time – Ensure that you are well prepared prior to your client’s appointment. Rid yourself of personal distractions.
• Not your agenda, the client’s – Regard your client as more important than yourself. Enable your client to express their emotion.
• Listen – Communication experts acknowledge that we should invest 70% of our time in listening and 30% in speaking. We will explore more of the art of listening later on in this lesson.
• Ask questions – By asking questions, we show respect to our client by providing an opportunity for clarification and analysis.
This provides a framework for delivering verbal and non-verbal messages designed to meet the client’s needs.
The development of therapeutic communication requires distinct talents, skills and understanding. Rogers refers to these core therapeutic conditions as genuineness, empathic understanding and acceptance. By engaging in therapeutic communication, we are attempting to influence an individual’s approach to their circumstances in a positive way. This means intervening or acting as vessels of change, which creates a definite logic for the practitioner to develop constructive relationships with others. Therefore, we can deduce that the development of therapeutic communication is about enabling and facilitating change.
Similarly, Egan (2010) writes of therapeutic interventions as providing companionship, emotional support and information about solving problems by encouraging the client to set goals, make and implement plans to fit their specific needs.
We can help others to facilitate change in several ways. One method that comes naturally is by posing the question, “What made you decide to…?”
 Rogers, C. (1983). Freedom to Learn for the Eighties. Merril: New York.
 Egan, G. (2010). The Skilled Helper (9th Ed.) Brooks/Cole: Monterey, California.
Certificate in Therapeutic Communication - Level 3
Basic English Skills