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Therapeutic Relationships In Mental Health

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 1939 words Published: 24th Apr 2017

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The remit of this essay is to explore and discuss the concept of therapeutic relationships in mental health and what is involved in building these relationships. The question is in two parts, so in the first part of the essay, the author wishes to explore the meaning of a therapeutic relationship and discuss what is needed from the nurse and service user to maintain this. In the second part, the author will choose two key elements that contribute to a therapeutic relationship in mental health nursing and discuss the importance they have. The two key elements that have been chosen is communication, both verbal and non verbal, and the importance of these elements in a relationship between a nurse and a service user. To achieve this goal the author will use various resources available, for example the internet, literature from class and appropriate reading materials.

Main Body

“Building relationships is central to nursing work…,” (Nursing Times) and extremely important in mental health nursing. A therapeutic relationship involves respect, empathy and genuineness (Callaghan and Waldock 2006). Both the nurse and service user should show respect for each other and the nurse should respect the beliefs of the service user, even if they do not agree with these. The relationship should be person centred, allowing the service user to be at the core of their care plans etc, their beliefs and wishes must be respected at all times. Service users must be at the centre of their care and recovery. Choices and decisions should be made by them. If there are any changes to be made to a care package, the service user must be informed and have their say. In a therapeutic relationship the nurse will support the service user in all aspects of their care and recovery. With reference to the quote in question, “…did it at my level and pace all the time…,” (Brown and Kandirkirira 2007) this is vital in recovery and for a therapeutic relationship. The nurse must work alongside the service user and support them in aiming for the goals that the service user has made and not what the nurse expects them to be able to do. The service user should always remain at the centre of their recovery and to develop such a relationship, the nurse should share their knowledge of the illness, which gives the service user an understanding of what they are experiencing and some control on the situation and both will be able “to take an active role in the management of the illness,” (Owen 2004).The nurse should be able to show empathy, being able to put themselves in the service users’ position and imagine how they would feel and how they would wish to be treated, “accurate empathy is always empowering, since it represents an understanding and acceptance of the speaker’s feelings” (Millenson 1995). This skill shows the service user that the nurse has taken on board what has been said and that they can put themselves in the individuals’ situation. Those involved in the therapeutic relationship should always show genuineness and hold non judgmental attitudes towards each other. “Genuineness is based on the ability of the practitioner to be open with his patient…It will help to reassert the patient as the centre of the treatment and promote the patients trust in the practitioner and his treatments,” (Owen 2004). The nurse should want to work alongside the service user and offer support when needed to achieve and maintain this relationship.

“The people have the right and the duty to participate individually and collectively in the planning and implementation of their health care,” (World Health Organisation 1978).

A therapeutic relationship does not occur overnight, it takes time and a great deal of trust is essential between the nurse and the service user. Trust is very important for the relationship to develop and if this is achieved the service user will accept the nurses support and advice on treatments available and also work alongside each other instead of the nurse suggesting that they know best as they are the professional. “…patients themselves value therapeutic relationships which offer respect, trust and care and it seems that such relationships may in themselves prove to be healing in the broadest sense.” (Mitchell and Cormack 1998). If trust is maintained throughout the development of the relationship the service user will begin to realise that the nurse does in fact care about their situation and does wish to support them on their road to recovery offering support and advice when necessary. The trust gained from both people should help each other to begin feel at ease the more they meet with each other and the service user may slowly begin to open up to the nurse and enable them to talk about how they are really feeling, what may scare them and accept their advice and support. It will also show the service user that they are at the centre of their care and that they will work at their own pace and when they are ready to take that one step further down their path to recovery, they will.

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A key element that contributes to a therapeutic relationship in mental health nursing is the use of verbal communication. One very important aspect of this is asking open questions, which the service user is unable to reply with a simple yes or no answer. This will allow the nurse to gain a deeper understanding of how the service user really feels (Burnard 1992). This also shows the service user is at the centre of their care and maybe they will begin to talk openly and freely about their true feelings as this type of questions show the nurse does care for them and wants to support them in the best possible way, it allows the nurse to empathise, if they can get a true account of the feelings the service user has. The empathy shown may encourage the service user to talk openly more often as they know that they will not be judged for having some of these feelings and thoughts.

Another important aspect of verbal communication is reflecting and clarifying what has been said by the service user. Reflection requires the nurse to say back to the service user what they have said to ensure they understand fully. Clarifying is required by both the nurse and service user. The nurse may ask a closed question, which allows the service user to answer simply yes or no, or a single answer to be definite, to ensure they get the true meaning of what the service user is saying and in turn the nurse can explain their understanding of the illness or situation that the individual finds themselves in and what support and services are available and how they can go about setting these up, together, enabling the service user to make decisions after being given the choice to do so. When the nurse gives their views to the service user, any specialist language, for example jargon, should be avoided as this may act as a barrier within the therapeutic relationship as the nurse is not taking into account if the service user understands what is being said to them. This binds in with the core elements of a therapeutic relationship as the nurse will show empathy, genuineness and trust will increase working at the level and pace of the service user.

The nurse must be aware of their “tone of voice,” (Stickley and Freshwater 2006) when speaking to the service user, to make sure they don’t come across as patronising or uncaring. This may create a challenge in maintaining the relationship as the service user may feel belittled by the nurse and in turn may close up and not speak about how they are truly feeling therefore the relationship will not develop and there won’t be any trust. Another element of verbal communication is the nurse should “not be quick to problem solve,” (Stickley and Freshwater 2006). Allowing the service user to think of approaches of overcoming the problems that may occur during their recovery process highlights that they are at the centre of their care and shows that they have the final decision in their care and or treatment. If the nurse moves in quickly to try and help the service user, it may come across as patronising and that they are trying to take control of the situation as they have not took the time to ask what the service user wants and may cause a barrier between the nurse and the service user.

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The second key element that contributes to therapeutic relationships in mental health is the use of non verbal communication. This element is extremely important in maintaining a therapeutic relationship and being aware of the skill involved is vital. The most important skill is sitting in a mirrored position, not sitting face on in front of the patient but to the side and leaning slightly in showing they are ready and willing to listen (Stickley and Freshwater 2006), sitting behind a desk can act as a barrier and come across as authoritative (Burnard 1992) and may cause the service user to feel uneasy, deterring them from opening up and feeling unable to trust the nurse. The nurse should be sitting comfortably and in a way that does not make the service user feel uncomfortable in any way. The use of eye contact is paramount in maintaining a therapeutic relationship but knowing when and how to use the skill is the key. Too much eye contact may cause the situation to intensify and both the nurse and service user may feel uncomfortable. Not enough eye contact may convey a lack of interest in what the service user is trying to tell them and may cause the therapeutic relationship to come to an end and the service user may not show what they are truly feeling or thinking at this time.

Another important aspect of non verbal communication is listening, “The role of the listener therefore is a privileged one and one that can promote healing,” (Stickley and Freshwater 2006). Listening is probably one of the greatest skills a nurse can achieve. Listening is, the nurse hearing what the service user is saying and understanding what is being said, not what the nurse thinks they are saying. “…effectiveness largely depends on the nurses ability to listen and detect cues for therapeutic enquiry,” (Stickley and Freshwater 2006). Thus again shows the nurse has picked up on the detail of the statement from the service user and can reflect back to the service user what has been said to clarify their understanding and to reassure the service user that they are being listened to. This will help the service user to build trust in the nurse as they will have a feeling of acceptance and that someone is listening to them.


It can now be seen that there are many key elements that contribute to a therapeutic relationship and the list is endless. A therapeutic relationship requires a lot of time and trust on both parts and the core skills required from a nurse is empathy, trust and genuineness. As the author stated she was only looking at two key elements that contribute to this relationship and feels further investigation may be required into other elements to fully understand the importance and why such skills are acquired to build a relationship with a service user and the difficulties they may come across in maintaining a therapeutic relationship. One thing the author has achieved is the importance of person centred care and how essential it is to involve and listen to the service user in all aspects of their care.


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