How Physical Therapists Can Motivate Patients

how physical therapists can motivate patients

Students often choose to enter a physical therapy program because they want to help people, whether it is those who need to overcome an injury or bounce back from surgery or illness. What they may not realize, however, is that how much progress a patient can make is often about the patient’s own attitude, how seriously they take therapy and their willingness to put in the needed work.

The work required of a physical therapy patient will entail showing up for their scheduled appointments and exerting the required effort during their physical therapy sessions, as well as doing assigned exercises between sessions to accelerate their recovery. For longer therapy engagements, maintaining motivation can be even more of a challenge.

Still, while patients themselves will ultimately determine how effective their therapy will be, there are strategies physical therapists can employ to help motivate patients, keep them motivated and drive positive behavior change. 

Engage with the patient. Getting and keeping a patient motivated begins with getting to know the patient and building rapport and trust. This requires listening to the patient, addressing any concerns they might have and asking questions about their condition and situation. By building a positive, trusting relationship with a patient, a physical therapist can promote motivation and lay the groundwork for real progress.

Provide specific instructions. For exercises the patient will be asked to complete between their scheduled sessions, specific directions need to be provided. Clear written instructions, complete with pictures or videos to demonstrate proper form, are a must to ensure the patient understands exactly what they need to do—and be motivated to complete their assigned “homework.”  

Set goals. To get and reamin motivated, patients need specific, achievable goals to work toward. For lengthy therapy engagements, a patient may need a series of achievable goals to keep them focused on making progress. 

Be positive and encouraging. If a physical therapist wants their patients to be both positive and motivated, they need to model that behavior in their interactions and relationship-building with patients. 

One of the greatest benefits of keeping patients motivated is that their enthusiasm can sometimes carry over into lasting positive behavior changes that lead to improved health and wellness. In this way, physical therapists can have an impact on their patients that extends beyond the physical therapy engagement.

Begin your journey toward a career as a physical therapist with a Bachelor of Science in Pre-Physical Therapy from Carlow University. This program, which can be completed in as little as three years, will prepare you for graduate-level studies or to work in the health care field.


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