One great thing about being a physical therapist is that I am always learning. Sometimes I learn in the clinic; sometimes studying on my own; and sometimes at a workshop. Recently, I attended a workshop called Body Reading 101. What struck me most and has stayed with me since I left is something the instructor said as we were making our very first observations. What resources does this patient, this body already have?
This question is interesting to consider as a physical therapist. We are kind of like mini private investigators, trying to follow the body trail map to figure out “who done it.” When a patient comes in, we do a lot of observational assessment. What is different from side to side? What doesn’t fit in this particular body’s overall scheme? What doesn’t look the way we were trained it should look? But the question of what are the body’s resources had me conceptually challenged—I’ve been trained to see what’s wrong, not what’s right!
And that blew my mind. I realized that I do this in so many different aspects of my life. What doesn’t fit always attracts my attention. I notice when there is something out of order, different schedules than I expect or dissonant notes that are little off key. But the little unexpected happenings of daily living that go right happen all day long! This phrase, “what resources are there,” made me recognize that there are so many things that go right for us! They need to be addressed and acknowledged, possibly even praised!
That’s what we did in the workshop. As each lesson was instructed, a participant or two would be in the spotlight on whom the rest of us could practice the new technique of finding what isn’t quite right. What we were asked to do FIRST was to find three things about this subject’s form that were assets to him or her. At first it was a little difficult. We haven’t really been trained to appreciate what is going well. But small details such as appearing well-grounded, having strong shoulders, demonstrating good spinal posture or an open chest began to be easier to see.
Many times, our health problems are ill-timed. We don’t expect them! When we are facing this new challenge, we often look at the things that we are no longer able to do that have been part of our routine. I challenge us to look at what we continue to have available.
Using this technique of recognizing resources, I could tell that it also made the subject feel much better. They were willing to take the plunge to be picked apart for our learning, but they could also be made to recognize what they are doing that is useful and good. The swimmer might have the strong shoulders. The weightlifter might have well-developed muscles. Even attitude shows through: the person who is able to stand relaxed and smiling in front of 40 pairs of eyes has an innate strength that demands to be appreciated!
Taking this new frame of mind into my everyday life was transforming. I can’t promise that I have been able to do it all of the time, but I was able to put it into immediate action with my family. I have a 12-year-old daughter. Although she looks like an adult, I forget that she still has a developing brain. I often expect her to be completing her work and thinking forward in an adult manner. But, with this new concept, I was able to re-adjust my framework of her choices. What are her strengths and how was she able to make a decision that relied on those resources? And in that question, I am able to stop my critical eye and recognize how her differences make her resourceful in her own way.
Many times, our health problems are ill-timed. We don’t expect them! When we are facing this new challenge, we often look at the things that we are no longer able to do that have been part of our routine. I challenge us to look at what we continue to have available. If I can’t be out and about with my normal exercise, maybe it is time to sit down and catch up on some reading. If I am not able to continue eating the same foods, what fun can I have with finding new recipes? If certain movements are quite uncomfortable and painful, what movements can I do that still feel good? It also helps if I can recognize how those things that I am able to do are nourishing to me. As they become part of my resource strategy, I am also able to build my resilience. (Check out our recent newsletter, which focused on resilience.)
It isn’t easy to accept change or injury. But I see that the choice to recognize resources is similar to choosing direction at a fork in a road. If I choose one direction because it looks like where I came from, I’ll be disappointed that, even though it looks similar to where I have been, familiar branching paths are closed to me. But if I allow myself to be curious about my new path, there may be new opportunities and choices that I couldn’t have foreseen. Of course, it may not have been my decision to be there in the first place, but the only place to go is forward! We may as well appreciate what we’ve got.
~ Courtney Germano PT, DPT