Brigham and Women's Hospitals

Pal Care NURSE

NURSE Skills for Responding to Emotion

  1. Discussing serious illness with patients and families often provokes strong emotions. The presence of emotion, while difficult, can indicate that patients and families are understanding the seriousness of the situation.
  2. Responding empathically to patient/family emotion can:
  1. Help patients/families feel heard
  2. Decrease the emotional temperature in the conversation, such that patients and families can think with you about what to do next


What patient/family says:

“I know things are getting worse, but there’s got to be more you can do…”


What you might say

Naming the emotion

“I can see this is upsetting…”

Understanding the emotion

“I can only imagine how difficult this must be…”


“We’ve been so moved by how you’ve cared and advocated for your mother…”


“No matter what happens, we’ll be here with you and your family.”

Exploring the emotion

“Can you tell me more about what most worries you?”