What makes me a better therapist?

No, I’m not referring to how I rank amongst the fourteen other therapists down the road.  What I mean is… what factors will contribute to my being a better therapist each day for my clients?  Well…there are three I can think of right now.

1.  Never stop learning.  When LMTs fulfill their state-mandated number of course hours, they have learned only the basics…the minimum requirement for passing the state boards.  Granted, we learn a LOT, but it’s really only scratching the surface (no pun intended…ok, well, maybe a little).  And we learn this very quickly when we begin our new practice – whether we contract with a local business, or we create our own.  As excited as we are to “change the world”, we quickly realize the world has some major problems in which a feel-good, fluff-n-buff isn’t going to solve.  Only through continuing education courses, keeping up on the latest techniques, reading various industry journals, and a willingness to stretch herself, will a therapist find success with her clients and thrive in her business.

2.  Constant communication.  I would have to say that only 2% of my clientele come to see me purely for relaxation purposes.  The other 98%??  Chronic pain.  And when seeing those people for the first time, we have a long, leisurely talk about whatever they want to talk about.  Granted, most therapists won’t go quite that far or can afford the time to do this…at least to the degree I do.  If time allows, I’ve spent upwards of 45 minutes gabbing with a client and when they talk, I listen.  They usually tell me most of what I need to know about their issues.  Sleep patterns, work habits, how they drive, how stressful their job is, when their divorce will go through, what they ate for lunch, which ankle they broke four years ago, etc.  Believe it or not, all of these can factor into their painful issues and I let them know why and how.  We have a lengthy conversation about all of it, and then we talk about the work itself before we get started.  Why?  Primarily to alleviate fear of the unknown.  When a client knows what’s coming in the next hour, their whole countenance changes.  They’re no longer frustrated that “no one can help them” but are encouraged and optimistic that their therapist knows what she’s talking about and, well, “hey, this just might work”.  I’ve had many, many clients tell me this was their first glimmer of hope of finding a solution to their chronic pain, or that what we’ve been working on in their sessions is actually producing results.  Communication doesn’t stop there, though.  After each session, we talk about how they feel…do they notice any changes?  Feel less restricted?  In most instances, clients become more body-aware…something they take home with them, which fosters better habits, postural or otherwise.  I also send them home with several things: 1) instructions regarding the application of heat/cold therapy, as well as upping their intake of H2O; 2) mild stretching techniques which I’ve demonstrated before they leave the studio; and 3) sometimes, if the work was particularly intense, I’ll give them a sample of a topical analgesic to apply over the next day or two, or, if they’ve been having trouble sleeping, I’ll mix some massage creme with a relaxation blend of essential oils to apply before bedtime.  I follow up with new clients in the next day or two with a phone call to see how they’re feeling, answer any questions they may have, etc.  When they come back, we start the conversation again…this time it’s more about the changes they’ve experienced and how best to proceed with treatment.

3.  Last, but certainly not least….feeling your pain.  I’ll admit, I hate this part but, honestly, it’s the most beneficial thing that makes me a better therapist.  I frequently suffer from (non-work related) migraines, neck and shoulder pain, and low back/buttocks/right thigh pain due to a hip imbalance (my right leg is about an inch shorter than my left).  But because I know what these feel like, I can pinpoint areas intuitively on my clients and quite successfully alleviate their pain in most cases.  There have been one or two times when I believe I’ve incurred pain in other, atypical areas by divine intervention….yes, I said that.  Because three days after said pain, I’d get a client with the exact same ailment…one I’d have a difficult time treating specifically if I had not gone through it myself.

All of that being said, I just realized that what will make me a better therapist is simply being aware of the fact that I want to be a better therapist and will continue to strive to be such.   My clients somehow know that…and so do all their friends they’ve sent my way.

Any thoughts?