Believe it or not, pain is a physical, occupational, or speech therapist’s #1 friend.

Pain is the #1 factor that motivates patients to go through the hassle of signing up for therapy and making time in their busy schedules for therapy appointments. Every patient that a therapist sees has a desire to find relief from their pain, whether that pain is physical, emotional, or social. Discovering the source of a patient’s pain is the first step to helping them, and the first step in understanding how to keep them motivated as they progress through their treatment.

However, determining how to motivate your patients is an art, as well as a science.

Physical, emotional, and social factors often shroud a patient’s true source of pain in mystery. These factors interact with one another, requiring great detective work on the part of a therapist to determine which symptom to treat first. In addition, once a patient starts to see improvement, their motivation to come to therapy appointments and work on exercises at home decreases.  Motivating patients to follow their treatment plan while they’re home and outside the scope of your watchful eye maybe easy or difficult, depending on a patient’s work habits and commitment to improving their health.

Realistically, a therapist builds on the motivation that a patient comes to see him or her with. When a patient is highly motivated, a therapist can help them accomplish rigorous treatment goals. A patient with weak motivation may only see minimal improvement. However, your role as a coach and encourager is to accept the raw material before you and make the most of it, often surprising the patient, in what they can accomplish.

As a physical, occupational or speech therapy professional, you can maximize your patient’s motivation to reach their goals with the following steps:

  • Build good rapport with your patients.

    One of the best ways to encourage your patient to follow their treatment plan is by earning their trust. If your patient likes you and respects your professional opinion, they will be more committed to follow through on your advice.

  • Set reasonable goals.

    If a treatment goal seems unattainable, your patient may become discouraged and give up. Of course you’ll have big long-term goals for your patients, but break these into “baby steps,” so they can slowly begin to cross accomplishments off the list. This can be extremely motivating.

  • Be clear with your instructions.

    It’s easy for a patient to follow your treatments while they’re with you. But on their own, they’ll need to have a clear understanding of their exercises to be able to complete them. Show your patients exactly how to practice treatments, using equipment or materials that they have in their home.

  • Keep a positive attitude.

    Your patients may not progress as quickly as they would like, and may even experience setbacks, but always continue to offer hope. Remind them of what they’ve accomplished so far -even if they have much further to go.

Be a believer in therapy and your patient!
Your commitment to your patients’ success motivates them to stick with their treatment plans. One definition of faith is “believing in what you can not see.” Although therapy is science based, helping a patient to believe that recovery is possible, even when they are not seeing results requires faith. We all have times when we need someone else to come along side of us and have faith for us, because we are so discouraged.  The road to recovery may be a long journey that requires perseverance. Sharing your experiences and knowledge in a way that holds out hope for recovery may be the most important thing you can offer your patients.

Looking for your next position?
Check out myPTsolutions.  We place physical and occupational therapists and speech language pathologists with job opportunities across the country. To learn more, contact one of our experienced therapy employment specialists, today.

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PT, OT, SLP Best Practices: 4 Keys to Motivating your Patients was last modified: by



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  1. May 26, 2016

    I had a cousin that had to do physical therapy for all of his life, and I was wondering how he stayed motivated. I’m glad that you have little goals that they can achieve as part of your tips. I think that when people achieve even a small goal it feels great. Thanks for the information.

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  1. […] plan, you are asking them to follow your advisement — to make a commitment. In order to do this, you must have their trust. If your patient respects your professional opinion, they will be more encouraged to follow your […]

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