Nonverbal communication in psychotherapy

Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2010 Jun;7(6):38-44.


The mental status examination is the objective portion of any comprehensive psychiatric assessment and has key diagnostic and treatment implications. This includes elements such as a patient's baseline general appearance and behavior, affect, eye contact, and psychomotor functioning. Changes in these parameters from session to session allow the psychiatrist to gather important information about the patient. In psychiatry, much emphasis is placed on not only listening to what patients communicate verbally but also observing their interactions with the environment and the psychiatrist. In a complimentary fashion, psychiatrists must be aware of their own nonverbal behaviors and communication, as these can serve to either facilitate or hinder the patient-physician interaction. In this article, clinical vignettes will be used to illustrate various aspects of nonverbal communication that may occur within the setting of psychotherapy. Being aware of these unspoken subtleties can offer a psychiatrist valuable information that a patient may be unwilling or unable to put into words.

Keywords: nonverbal communication; patient-physician relationship; psychotherapy.