Physical therapy is a beautiful profession of profound abilities to make change in people’s lives.
I am getting more enjoyment in my profession by listening to the story more deeply. Earlier in my career, I would always try to speed patient through their story to get to what I felt was important. Time constraints are important and I had to be able to determine the problem, treatment and plan. Sometimes hearing about every aspect of someone’s life did not seem as important as the duties I needed to accomplish to satisfy my part.
I have since abandoned the notion that I need to do anything. There is an awareness that the patient is there for whatever purpose and they are there for help, even if it does not seem like it is physical therapy help. Which, if you do not listen to the story, you may miss that you were not needed in their process of healing and now you are stuck in their misery of suffering because they are not in the right place.
Erl Pettman taught me the art of listening, but I was not listening! Years later I can appreciate the gift that is so simple but so hard to start to master. Erl has a brilliant way of always being present and engaged with students and patients as they share. He never seemed to be in a rush. When he was talking to me, I felt like I was the only person that existed at that time. Most of the time, that is all I needed to have confidence in myself. As a student, listening to something that I would feel is really not pertinent and would dismiss the query as a waste of the class time would be turned into a great learning experience of the classroom. Usually, when you think something is not worth your time tends to be what you are needing at that moment when learning from a mentor. Erl also has a strong ability of allowing others to be heard and cared for. When he would treat patients, the conversations were so fluid and very rapid to the problem, not because he tested them but more so he picked up on valuable verbal and nonverbal cues that guided him to the problem with almost no effort. The healing already started because the patient feels heard.
I find that sitting with a patient and allowing them to share whatever they feel is important starts the process of healing. You may have to hear how every other practitioner has wronged them or how their child is driving them nuts or the dramas that are involved in their jobs. No matter what we think, these scenarios are connected to the patient’s ability to start healing. As a practitioner, if we dismiss too much of the patients miscellaneous concerns, then we are missing the heart of the problem they are facing.
No matter how irrelevant a person’s problem appears to you, at the time it is their reality. We are there to help them see it does not have to be.
– Rajesh Khemraj, PT, OCS, COMT, FAAOMPT
Clinical Faculty Instructor at The North American Institute of Orthopaedic Manual Therapy