The emotional side of healing

Kristy Brown
Kristy Brown

While the body is almost magical in its ability to heal and recover lost ground, the mind and emotions can sometimes hold us back. Building inner strength, while building up physical abilities is an important part of recovery.

Therapists at Centrex Rehab see patients who are recovering from illnesses or injuries that affect the way they move, talk, eat and drink. However, emotions factor in to the healing process as well. Most training for therapists, especially those in physical or occupational fields, focuses on primarily healing the body. While therapists do receive training to address the psychological effects of an injury, more attention must be paid to emotions if we are to succeed as healers.

Therapists must provide support, affirmation and encouragement as often as possible. It is crucial that we communicate to patients that we have confidence in their abilities and that we believe they will succeed. I say this because unless we recover emotionally, our path to healing will be slow and incomplete.

Recently, our therapists worked with a young woman who had been in a serious car accident in December. Her ankle had been broken and she knew it might be some time before she could walk again.

At first, the young woman was in considerable pain and therefore, the first order of business was to get that pain under control. She was also emotionally fragile and struggled with memories of the accident that would not leave her. Part of our job as therapists was to help bestow confidence in her ability to recover.

As time went by, this young woman began to grow stronger. She learned to use a scooter and was able to take herself to the dining room and other areas in and around the rehabilitation area. She extended herself and met residents and patients in the community who were charmed by her easy wit and beautiful singing voice.

The young woman began performing for patients and helping them heal emotionally, too. In fact, staff let her know that after she sang for one particular patient, he came out of his room for the first time in weeks. By the time the young woman left, staff members, patients and residents had become quite attached to her and were thrilled to see her progress.

As her strength increased, therapists' main concern shifted from how the young woman was recovering to how she would manage at home. The last thing we as therapists want to see is people re-injuring themselves once they leave rehabilitation. In the distant past, we were able to keep patients until they were almost completely healed through ongoing therapy. We now have to aim for discharge, once patients have overcome any barriers restricting them from transitioning to their living environments.

Our protocol in therapy is to look at the next potential living situation at least two weeks prior to discharge. We then determine what the patient's functional state needs to be to succeed in this new environment. We not only work on physical aspects with the individual, but also make recommendations for physical changes to the residence if they are needed. The therapist may also determine if an individual needs any further support services, such as home care therapy or a certain level of assistance from others. The bottom line is that we want to see patients succeed.

Therapists have to look at the care we deliver as holistic. We can best help patients by making sure they know we are there to support their journeys. Our goals and the goals of patients are the same: to transition, step by step, to wholeness.

This journey to wholeness can only be achieved when patients receive steady encouragement and attention from the professionals who care for them. Good therapists know this—and must make sure that emotional support is an integral part of the service we provide.

Kristy Brown is the CEO and president at Centrex Rehab. Jenna Zark has been Director of Communications at Augustana Care since 2012. 

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