I have the honor of helping clients through their recovery from injury and illness. This was a place where I spent many years, so I have chosen this direction for my career to help people find a better path than I was offered, or in most cases had to forage on my own.
With this responsibility comes a need to navigate through negative emotions: sadness, grief, loss, frustration, and on it goes. It is easy to fall down the rabbit hole with the client if we aren’t careful. This isn’t a good place for the client, so giving them company here is not good for anyone,
In the beginning of each session it is important and necessary to ask these clients how they are doing, and most often this will come with a list of grievances about their body, their situation, maybe their life. That’s okay, and may be necessary to overcome the many hurdles to moving better and truly getting back to life. It is how we respond to that commentary that is most important.
Empathy plays a key role here. Can we put ourselves in our clients’ shoes to understand what they might be feeling? How can we do this without falling into a place of negativity ourselves? Here is how I manage these important conversations…
Allow the client to explain what they are feeling, where they have pain, and how it affects their lives. Acknowledge what you are hearing without commiserating or adding your perspective or experience. You don’t have to have a solution here, you are just getting all the BIG pieces of the puzzle.
Ask questions to expand on what they are saying. Most often they will describe global pain (ie “it’s everywhere”) so ask them to describe what they feel in specific areas or with specific movements. Inquire what they are doing when they feel the pain become aggravated, and what they do to resolve it. Ask what they want from their recovery, and what they might feel apprehensive about. Often times the idea of movement is terrifying, and knowing how to best approach this in a way that is comfortable and empowering for the client is important. At this stage, the puzzle pieces become smaller and start to fit together.
Change the dialogue
During times of injury and illness it is difficult to see the silver lining, the upside, whatever you want to call that place that is no longer entrenched in negativity. There is one though, there always is. It is possible for us as teachers of movement to help clients find that if we change the narrative. Talk to the client about what felt good in the past week (keep it recent), maybe it was your last session, maybe it was making it through a night out, anything.
Now take the pieces you have been given from the listening and learning stages and choose the right place to start. If something felt good last time, start with that. Remind the client how good they said this movement felt. Next, move towards movements that are functional in nature, and that they can easily translate into activities they do in their daily life. Take it slow, and check in often. If you see that they are seemingly reluctant or nervous, break the movement down even further to something supported or assisted, by you or with props or equipment. Allow them to feel that the smaller movements can be pain-free, and have them acknowledge this to themselves. Then move on to the next step, and the next until they are able to complete the full movement without fear or pain.
Always keep sessions light and encouraging. Remind the client that they can do these movements, and that you are here to help them through the tricky parts so that they can keep moving forward. Celebrate the small victories, over time these add up to major successes.
Pain can be unpredictable which makes it a difficult situation to overcome. Fear can be the biggest challenge for our clients, but also for us. It is scary to move when you are not sure if it will trigger the pain. Positivity goes a long way to giving these clients hope, strength, and the tools to move beyond injury.
Why stop at half full? Let’s try to keep the glass full always.
Holly Wallis, Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist, PMA®-CPT
Director of US Operations, Body Harmonics Pilates & Movement Institute
Studio Director, ReActive Movement, 6200 LaSalle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611
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