Physical therapists must be concerned with not only ending or limiting physical symptoms such as pain and motion issues, but also with the emotional pain, frustrations, and depression that those symptoms foster. By using tools and techniques of cognitive and behavioral therapies, experienced physical therapists can help patients deal with behavioral challenges such as fearful anticipation, discouraging thoughts, and negative emotions. This helps guide patients through physical therapy with a more positive mindset that wards off emotional suffering subsequent to physical pain and frustration.
While pain—both physical and emotional— is rooted in psychological processes, it is a purely subjective experience. This essentially means that the ways in which patients cope with pain throughout physical therapy are variable as well.
The best physical therapists attempt to incorporate psychological supports in order to help patients achieve their physical therapy goals and manage their pain and immobility. The reality is that not all physical therapists know how to accomplish this. While there are no definitive guidelines for dealing with every situation, there are some proven fundamental tools and techniques that physical therapists may find success in employing.
Education and Engagement
Emotional stress is one of the most disruptive features of physical pain and limited or non-existent physical mobility. These emotions can range from anxiety, fear, guilt, and depression to anger and frustration. The way in which a patient learns to deal with these emotions will have a significant impact on his or her long-term physical pain and recovery. Consequently, physical therapists must focus on emotional and sensory aspects of pain and physical therapy in order to achieve the best outcomes.
One of the key ways that physical therapists help patients work through these challenges is through education. Providing patients with an understanding of the therapy process and online resources are just two key steps in the process. This will also include providing them with resources that they can use on their own to better understand their diagnosis and begin their independent home routines.
Meaningful Conversation, Behavior Modification, and Empowerment
It’s vital that physical therapists engage their patients in meaningful conversation so patients fully understand their goals. It has been said that “engagement is about interaction, listening, and learning in relationship to another person.”
Let’s take a closer look at that term of “meaningful conversation” and communication as a component of engagement. Experienced physical therapists understand that patient engagement begins with the physical therapist. This means not getting caught up in charts, diagnoses, and treatment methods to the point where therapists no longer see patients as emotional beings.
When physical therapists listen carefully to their patients’ challenges, goals, beliefs, and fears, they are in a position to offer relevant feedback. This starts a dialogue where patients and therapists can be partners working toward a desired outcome. It helps the therapist to connect the patient’s therapy and recovery to the viable reclamation of everyday and important tasks and activities that they can hope to once again enjoy.
All of these tools and techniques are worthless without the ability to instill long-term behavior modification. Physical therapists must have an understanding of what people go through when trying to develop a new habit or change an old one. If not, their carefully crafted therapy plans will fail.
By knowing how to use tools like behavioral staging and self-efficacy evaluations, physical therapists and other healthcare professionals can better equip themselves to help patients achieve desired clinical outcomes through improved patient engagement.
Empowerment is another vital tool for helping patients work through the emotional pain and frustration associated with physical pain and limitations. Education, engagement, and behavior modification techniques are all tools that help empower patients by providing them with ways to maintain a successful long-term outcome.