His magnificent view of therapy through the perspective of a patient exemplifies the importance of a patient’s purpose and goals. As students, we learn techniques and tools to enhance patients’ participation in activities of daily life, but sometimes we may miss the bigger picture: It’s all about the patient. Here, Green shares how therapists can transform themselves as practitioners.
Lauren Sullivan and Stacey Tarnovsky: Can you summarize the impact OTs and PTs had on you in one word?
Jacob Green: Hope. OTs and PTs restored hope in my ability to work toward independence.
LS/ST: How can OTs and PTs maintain a professional relationship with clients?
JG: My occupational therapist in northern California was excited about the occupational therapy process. That was contagious. She was excited about helping me, working with me, learning about me, and challenging me. The patient needs to feel like the rehab professional is truly compassionate, believes in the process, and has a level of compassion and empathy for the patient’s unique experience. Communicate a clear message to the patient that says, “Hey, we’re in this together and I’m going to help guide you. You’re not flying solo anymore.” For example, if you explain to the patient, “Today we’re going to work on memorizing three words. Maybe we can get you up to the point where you are memorizing phone numbers and that way you can call your mom.” All of a sudden, as a patient I’m a lot more motivated to tackle those three words.
LS/ST: That is our goal. We are trying to find out what makes the client tick and what is most meaningful and purposeful to them, but sometimes we have difficulty doing that. What would you recommend as the best therapeutic approach to patients?
JG: Understand the importance of tapping into a patient’s interests. How do you extract that? One thing I saw is to ask the patient to bring in 10 photos from their life. Maybe one photo shows a guy fishing. Now all of a sudden you can do an entire six-month program based on fishing, getting the person back on the boat, understanding what equipment is required, and how to find a fishing buddy—all things that come with fishing.
Or, maybe the patient’s spouse, or mom and dad could suggest those interests. I brought my best friends to rehab. It was an opportunity for the rehab professionals to ask them, “Tell us what you like to do with Jacob. What is Jacob interested in?”
LS/ST: Why is it so important for clinicians to remind themselves to understand where the patient is coming from?
JG: Every single person on this planet faces crisis, trauma, injury, depression, and adversity. As a patient, I’m not unique. If clinicians tap into empathy or sympathy, that’s amazing. I really love when health care professionals express, “Gosh, I can’t imagine what that’s like. I’ve never had a brain injury, but I’m in this with you. I want to take this journey with you. I’m going to help guide you.”
LS/ST: As students it’s really gratifying to know that what we’re learning about is already being put into place by practitioners. Can you talk about the importance of OT for patients following a brain injury?
JG: Part of the challenge I see is we’ve got to get more patients to OT. Patients get to PT, but I cannot tell you the number of brain injury patients I talk to who have absolutely no idea what OT is. OT is the key to unlocking their future success, because OT focuses on the restoration of purpose and hope. The other disciplines certainly have a role in that, but OT is where you start to talk about your career and daily life, your tasks and achievements.
LS/ST: Tell us about the impact speaking to audiences like ours has had on you.
JG: It’s most fulfilling to speak to groups that are made up of health care professionals. You’re all going to treat 10,000-plus patients and that means that any tool you take away is going to 10,000 people times 100 students. It’s pretty powerful.
LS/ST: What message would you like readers to take home?
JG: Every occupational therapist or physical therapist must be committed to restoring hope and purpose. Create an environment of health and healing for patients. It’s a very important role to be a healer and go above and beyond to help another person back into the world. As hard as the exams get, as challenging as clinical life gets, and as frustrating as patients can be, do not lose sight of how valuable your work is.