“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” - Aristotle
By Gene Shirokobrod
Today, strategic relationships are critical for mutual growth. Businesses rely on other businesses. Industries rely on other industries.
When it comes to the physical therapy industry, we need to develop a new relationship. An important strategic partnership.
Physical therapists need mental health professionals.
The above sentence can swing in a couple directions. Physical therapists should embrace mental health for themselves, this is a certainty. Few clinicians can manage the horrific trifecta of massive student loans, burn out, and stagnant pay. This is an important topic that deserves its due diligence. And I will expand on it in a future article.
Now though, I’d like to discuss a professional relationship with mental health professionals. A relationship that will immensely benefit our patients–our communities.
Physical therapy has always been closely linked with physicians. The relationship started in a sort of subservient fashion, and has evolved. For decades people needed referrals to see physical therapists. It made sense at the time. When people got hurt or injured they saw their physician. It was a natural fit. A physician sees someone in pain and/or with musculoskeletal issues, and sends them to someone else that specializes in those issues. That someone was the physical therapist.
Over the last decade a lot has changed. Physical therapists are independent practitioners. Referrals are no longer needed. The relationship between physician and physical therapist is important, but not critical.
That’s not the only thing that has changed over the last decade.
Our understanding of pain has evolved. We went from pain means injury, to hurt does not mean injured. Pain is a complex topic. I’d love nothing more than to derail the rest of this article to go over pain. But, most of you would fall asleep and there is a more important point to make.
Pain is an experiential process.
We have significant evidence, with more emerging, that our state of mind has a huge impact on how we process pain. Increased stress results in increased pain. Poor sleep results in reduced healing. Previous traumas often impact current pain states.
Physical therapists are on the front lines of helping people with musculoskeletal issues. Even with the focus on a functional end-goal, pain is a constant barrier needed to cross.
We know the brain and nervous system play a critical role in pain processing. Helping people with their bodies without giving their mind the same attention, is like building a house on an unstable foundation. It may not come down, but it doesn’t give you confidence nor consistency.
Dealing with pain requires physical and mental support. But please understand that this goes beyond pain. Many people are hurting long before they are in pain. So many people live in quiet suffering brought on by stress, anxiety, depression.
This is a no-brainer. Physical therapists and mental health professionals must work together. Physical therapists should expand beyond marketing to physicians for referrals. I understand physicians are an important member of the team. And they have their role to play. That won’t change. What does need to change is the role of mental health in this process.
Health is a game we will all lose, yet have to play. Yet, too many people never get the chance to enjoy playing it. Physical therapists help people develop strong and healthy bodies. Mental health professionals help people develop strong and healthy minds. By working together, we can help people develop strong and complete selves.