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4 ways occupational therapists can motivate patients

4 ways occupational therapists can motivate patients


Working in occupational therapy, you likely find that even the most motivated patients can lose some of their enthusiasm over time when complications arise or their recovery takes longer than they expected. As their therapist, you can play a critical role in not just their physical progress, but their emotional and mental commitment to continuing to work toward their goal. By finding strategies to encourage patients to keep going when they want to quit, you’ll see better results and likely form a trusting relationship in the process.

When the going gets tough, here are four ways to help motivate your occupational therapy patients to overcome the challenges that they face:

1. Find a purpose.

Just as every patient has unique challenges and goals when they enter occupational therapy, every person is motivated in different ways. An important part of encouraging your patients as an occupational therapist is to help them decide on their purpose. On the surface they may be in occupational therapy to overcome some form of physical limitation, but on a deeper level what will keep them going may be the desire to play catch with their grandkids. Or to dance at their child’s wedding. When sessions gets hard or your patients are close to giving up, reminding them of the purpose that the therapy is serving will help to motivate them even on the worst days. According to The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., as an occupational therapist, you should be asking patients “What matters to you?” rather than “What’s the matter with you?”

2. Create goals. 

The daily grind of trying to overcome some form of occupational challenge can become wearying, especially if your patient has a long road to recovery. Helping them to focus on goals rather than the process is a great way to encourage them to keep pushing forward. You may find that it is most effective to set both small and large goals simultaneously. Maybe you’re working with a woman who had a stroke and is having trouble moving her right hand. Her long-term goal might be to write again, but depending on her condition, that could take months, or even years. Set smaller goals, such as being able to hold a pencil and write her initials. Be sure to celebrate each milestone to motivate her to keep pushing toward that ultimate endpoint.

“Patients can lose motivation through personal discouragement.”

3. Encourage honesty. 

One of the quickest ways for your patients to lose their motivation is through personal discouragement. The only way that you can help in this area is if they are open and tell you what’s on their mind. To achieve this end, encourage honesty in your relationship from the beginning. Make sure that your patients don’t feel the need to “put on a brave face” or “suck it up” during sessions. If something hurts, they should have the freedom to say so. If they are feeling discouraged because they aren’t seeing the progress that they hoped for, they should be able to feel comfortable admitting that.

4. Make a home plan. 

Unless you meet with a patient every day of the week, progress will be relatively slow if it is limited to what is done during sessions. Consequently, you likely already encourage patients to continue the exercises and other activities that you do together at home throughout the week. However, whether or not the person actually follows through will vary. Creating a home plan that is easy to follow is critical for ensuring that your patients are continuing their progress on days that you do not meet. For many patients, writing the plan out on a sheet of paper that they can physically hold in their hand will help keep them on track during the week. According to U.S. News & World Report, committing to a broader purpose can also help people follow-through with exercises at home on days when they don’t have a session.  When patients continue to work on their own time, they will typically progress faster, which will build their motivation to keep pushing forward.

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