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Raising the Bar in Rehab

The Look

Published April 26, 2012 2:00 PM by Lisa Mueller

I'm sure many of you have read articles or attended work meetings focused on the topic of communication. Regardless of your work setting, communication is one of the most important pieces of being successful. Knowing information that will help your patient or client is useless if you cannot convey that knowledge to the patient. Obviously, I'm telling you something here you have likely already learned.

There are times when my husband and I are in public and we default to non-verbal communication because of the people we are with at the time. This is commonly referred to as "the look." My husband will give me "the look" to mean countless different things, such as: "Don't even think about talking about that in front of our friends," or "Let's step away from the salesman so we can discuss this furniture purchase in private." Over the course of the last few years, I've learned to interpret my husband's many looks quickly. And, it's a two-way street. I've given my husband many "looks" as well, and he has learned how to read them and what they mean. (Mine are much less subtle than his, by the way).

I don't need to rely very heavily on non-verbal communication with my patients, as I sometimes need to with my husband. My patients and I are in an open gym, a safe environment for both of us to exchange our thoughts and information. I default to verbal communication in this setting for many reasons. I often use other communication techniques (demonstration or tactile, for example), not because verbal communication isn't accepted, but because the other techniques are more effective for certain types of teaching.

I've started to notice, slowly, more of my patients incorporating more "looks" into their treatment sessions, and I am learning to pick up on them. After I demonstrate an exercise, one patient may look at me in a way that says, "You have got to be kidding me! There's no way I can do that exercise!" Other times a patient will glance my way with a look that says, "I am finally starting to feel better." After some of my family teaching sessions, the group will look at each other and at me with faces of understanding and relief that they are no longer under the umbrella of ignorance.

Sometimes seeing a patient's face light up is better than any verbal thank-you or acknowledgement. When I see my patient's face, and that he understands his own body better and has the tools to maintain his own health and function, it's the best job satisfaction I could ask for.

But, you have to watch for those looks. You have to be aware of those non-verbal communication styles any time you are interacting with a patient. Because if you miss "a look," you may be missing a big part of what your patient needs and wants you to know.


Good point Dean!  Thanks for note.

Lisa Mueller April 27, 2012 9:58 AM

An interesting contradiction in your post. You "don't need to rely on non-verbal communication" with your patients, but more of your patients incorporating looks into their sessions.

Perhaps it is the "safe environment for both of us" that is the real challenge. Just because the environment is safe for you doesn't mean it is safe for the patient. Through no short-coming of you or your staff, patients may not feel safe disclosing things that others may overhear in a gym setting. Many things may be embarrassing to patients that we see everyday and take no notice of anymore. I think it is another important piece of growth on your part to have noticed the "looks" and have begun to work on communicating with your patients in ways that are safe to them.

Cheers, Dean

Dean Metz April 26, 2012 5:02 PM

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