Therapeutic Communication in Depression

People suffering from depression have negative thoughts that lead to feeling depressed. While these thoughts need to be changed, depressed people are sometimes uninterested in the world around them and are easily discouraged. Therapeutic communication encourages a depressed person to examine and change his negative or distorted thought patterns, while maintaining sensitivity and therapeutic rapport. Therapists use a number of techniques to achieve these goals.

Provide Education

A depressed person is sometimes unaware she is suffering from a mental illness so the therapist communicates information on the disorder, its prevalence, symptoms and prognosis. Therapists share with the patient that, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, depression is a commonly occurring mental disorder with over 5 percent of the population of the United States meeting the criteria for depression as of the manual's 2000 publication date.

Communicate to the patient that the depression she is experiencing is different from just having the blues in that depression is the predominant feeling experienced throughout the day. Symptoms of major depressive disorder include: lack of interest and pleasure in activities that were formerly pleasurable, difficulty focusing and concentrating, lack of energy, weight loss or gain, sleep disturbances and thoughts of wanting to harm oneself or others. It's important to explain to the patient that with treatment her prognosis is good. Only one tenth of the people suffering from depression remain depressed after two years.

Validate Feelings

Communicate to the patient that you understand how he is feeling. Paraphrase what he is saying by repeating one or two key words that summarize the concept and let him know you understand. Say something like, “It seems the last year has been very hard for you. Anyone would feel depressed going through what you have been through."

Focus on the Present

Depressed people sometimes want to ruminate. Offer hope and confidence that her problems will get better with continued therapy. This encouragement is a lifeline to a depressed person. Try saying, “While the past year was tough, I’m confident you and I will work together to help you feel better and move on with your life.”

Ask for Clarification

Confused thoughts are a symptom of depression so the therapist works toward helping the patient clearly state what he is thinking. Asking questions, paraphrasing and summarizing are helpful communication techniques to help the patient achieve clarity. Try using the phrase, “If I’m understanding you right…” to assist the patient to organize his thoughts.