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Therapeutic and non-therapeutic interpersonal interactions: the patient's perspective


  • Anne M Williams PhD, RN,

  • Vera F Irurita PhD, RN

Dr Anne Williams
Centre for Nursing Research
Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital
‘R’ Block 3rd Floor South Wing
Hospital Avenue
Nedlands, WA 6009
Telephone: (08) 9346 3140


Background.  This research arose from a concern that the recovery of patients was being hindered by a lack of understanding and emphasis on psychosocial care during hospitalization.

Aims and objectives.  This paper describes some of the findings from a study that was undertaken to explore and describe, from the perspective of hospitalized patients in Western Australia, the perceived therapeutic effect of interpersonal interactions that were experienced during hospitalization.

Design.  Grounded theory method.

Methods.  Interviews were conducted with 40 patients who were, or who recently had been, hospitalized. Seventy-eight hours of participant observation were also performed and during that time patients and nurses were observed and informally interviewed. Relevant documentation such as nursing care plans and patient notes were also reviewed.

Results.  Emotional comfort was identified as a therapeutic state that patients perceived as enhancing their recovery. Personal control was found to be a central feature of emotional comfort and this accounted for the way in which patients interpreted therapeutic and non-therapeutic interpersonal interactions that they encountered during hospitalization. This paper will describe the conditions that patients perceived had either promoted or inhibited their emotional comfort. These were identified as the level of security, level of knowing and level of personal value. These conditions had been affected by the interpersonal interactions that had been experienced. The characteristics of therapeutic and non-therapeutic interpersonal interactions will be described.

Conclusions.  The results from this study provide further insight into and understanding of the therapeutic effect of psychosocial aspects of patient care. Specifically, these results emphasize the importance that patients in hospital place on all the interpersonal interactions that they experience during hospitalization.

Relevance to clinical practice.  The identification of the characteristics of interpersonal interactions that facilitated emotional comfort provides directions for enhancing the therapeutic potential of all interpersonal interactions experienced by patients in hospital.