Reclaiming Life through Physical Therapy: Establishing Trust and Safety with a Physical Therapist
Dec 28, 2011 03:51PM
By Michele Rozanski
Many components contribute to a successful physical therapy experience: a skilled therapist, a nurturing atmosphere and a motivated patient are a few key factors. Most important, perhaps, is that the patient feels safe, making a connection with the therapist that is based on unequivocal trust. This is especially critical for people with chronic and debilitating challenges.
Factors in Successful Therapy
The first condition necessary for effective physical therapy is that the patient connects with the therapist and feels heard, validated and understood. A compassionate and centered therapist will evaluate the patient by taking a thorough history and will then explain the existing pain scenario in a non-threatening way—acknowledging the patient’s present quality of life, recognizing their losses and offering hope.
Secondly, when a patient fully participates in physical therapy, both in the therapist’s office and at home, the experience of trust and safety can further develop. Consistent education during therapy sessions teaches patients to experience and trust new ways of moving. People with pain often feel comfortable with their habitual movement patterns, even those that may perpetuate the pain. Realizing why their body prefers these patterns empowers the patient with new knowledge that helps therapy to progress easily.
Practicing the skill of self-calming is the third requirement for successful physical therapy. In a state of chronic and constant pain, the body learns to tighten and stiffen. Muscles may exhibit a reflexive guarding response in order to protect the body from experiencing pain. Such a response also causes restriction of adequate circulation into the injured areas, prevents pain from subsiding and usually contributes to more pain. Eventually, the body adapts to this as normal, forgetting how to relax and let down that guard.
Teaching the body to relax takes courage and is often uncomfortable. As blood begins to flow more freely into injured areas, the patient becomes aware of how their body truly feels: pain sensations can increase temporarily, breathing and holding patterns become clear, and various emotions may arise. With this information no longer blocked by guarding, the patient has a choice: to return to guarding and continue holding the pain within their body or to learn to release it.
An effective physical therapist listens and continually responds to the patient and the changes they are undergoing and trusts their own instincts and those of the patient in order to develop specific tools to meet each patient’s needs.
In my opinion, myofascial release and craniosacral therapy are among the most effective methods for treating long-term pain and cumulative injuries. These approaches consider how the soft tissue healing process affects both healthy and stressed body movements and assume that with guidance, the body knows exactly how it needs to unwind itself to restore normal and comfortable mobility and function.
A patient’s beliefs and emotions often interfere with their progress. Techniques such as SomatoEmotional Release allow the therapist and patient to become more cognizant of attitudes that may be interfering with therapy, clearing the way for change.
As the body begins to regain function, reawakening a muscle may reactivate unpleasant sensations—sometimes, the very reason the person stopped using the muscle. Neuromuscular reeducation provides safety and support as the muscles remember how to move with ease.
Healing can occur on many levels, but it will only happen when a safe and trusting patient-therapist relationship exists. This requires the willingness to take risks, to learn and to look at each extraordinary life through a different lens.
Physical Therapist Michele Rozansky, owner of Orlanu Therapies, SC—The Myofascial Release Center of Milwaukee, is certified in neurodevelopmental treatment for children and has advanced training in myofascial release, craniosacral therapy and rebirthing for children and adults. Orlanu Therapies, SC, is located at GreenSquare Center for the Healing Arts, 6789 North Green Bay Rd., Glendale 53209. For more information call 262-241-7887 or visit OrlanuTherapies.com.