ABC’s of OT: therapeutic use of YOU

This one technically could have been used for letter ‘U’ (oops!) but hey, it works for ‘Y’ too, right?

I’m going to be straight up with this one, and tell you that I think ‘therapeutic use of self’ is something we like to say and toss around to make us sound all fancy, but how many of us actually know what the heck it means?

Therapeutic use of self is the ability to take your own personal experiences, communication styles, emotions, and personality to build a unique therapeutic rapport with your patients.

As I’ve gotten older, more of my extended family has been hospitalized, undergone surgery, been admitted for rehab, and have passed away. The passing of time has allowed me to experience how frustrating and unknown the healthcare system can feel when you are on the receiving end.

When I interact with my patients and their families, many of them long for honest, upfront information from their healthcare providers. Because of my age, they often look at me and assume that I have very little understanding of how frustrating the healthcare system can be (and this assumption of me isn’t a problem, it’s just a fact). So when I make a very general statement that I have family who has been in their exact position and that I completely understand how they feel, I am often greeted with a sigh of relief or a kind smile.

Receiving healthcare has allowed and inspired me to provide better healthcare. To meet people where they are at and remind them that I am a human just like them. That I understand that it can be scary to not know or understand what is going on in your body or what will happen next. I understand how frustrating it can be to ask what feels like a simple question to only be answered by runaround.

For me, therapeutic use of self is allowing my own experiences to transform how I act and interact with my patients. This doesn’t mean unpacking all of my baggage. It simply means treating patients the way that I hope to be treated as a patient; with honesty and respect and kindness.

So take the time to listen to your patients. Try to relate to them as much as you can. And never be embarrassed or ashamed of your personality strengths. These are the ways that you will personally connect with each patient, and those relationships will become more meaningful than you ever imagined.

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