Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

I doubt the R in R.E.M. stands for rehab, but that rock band spoke truth with the song, “Everybody Hurts” in 1992. Experiencing physical pain is clearly disclosed in the fine print of being human, and I’m convinced understanding that is what makes a good therapist. 

A few months ago, a neck injury forced me into the ranks of those “everybodys.” Mine wasn’t the kind of pain that’s easily squashed with a couple of Advil. This was deep and soul-shaking, making me think back with bittersweet wonderment to the last day I spent without it. 

After a gauntlet of tests, and being unsuccessfully stabbed, kneaded and twisted by an acupuncturist, masseuse and chiropractor, my ticket was finally punched for out-patient treatment in a post-acute rehab facility. 

It’s been a strange and sobering feeling to receive care alongside elderly long-term care residents. Once, as I lay face down and motionless, doing a neck stretch off the end of the therapy table, an anxious fellow patient asked in a shouted whisper, “Is he okay?” I twitched a leg to prove I wasn’t dead, and expressed appreciation for his concern. 

Over time, as my own pain has subsided, I’ve paid more attention to the far greater struggles of those around me — and especially to the empathic skills of their therapists. Though the therapy team is young compared to my fossilized self, they seem preternaturally blessed with deep compassion for what others feel. 

Maybe it’s simply the wisdom gained from working with different ages, conditions and levels of pain. But they always seem to know just the right approach, the right push here, the right pause there, to help these hurting people achieve far more than they think they can. And it all appears rooted in understanding the universal human experience.

The recognition that pain is something we all share allows therapists to connect and achieve something astounding and beautiful. Because everybody hurts.