Lessons I Have Learned as an Occupational Therapist

Posted by Leila Olson OTR/L

| Occupational Therapy

One of the best things about having a dog is the way they greet you when you walk in the door after a long day.  They make you feel like your arrival at home is the best thing that happened to them all day!  They jump up and down, begging you to pet them or give them a treat.  They run around the room or hop into your lap the moment you sit down.  

So, how do we greet our patients when they come in for treatment?

A warm welcome may be the most therapeutic thing you can do for a patient all day.

I’m not suggesting we “jump up and down” when our patients arrive, but I am suggesting that the warmth of your greeting (or lack thereof) sets the tone for your treatment with the patient. As therapists, we have a very busy schedule and sometimes one more body walking through the door can feel like the straw that broke the camel’s back. You have the power to make their first impression a positive one. Here are a few hints to help you set the right tone for a patient’s treatment session:

1.  Welcome each person by name.

The sound of your own name warmly spoken by your therapist is the best! Peek at your schedule a few minutes before your next patient so you can be prepared for their arrival.

2.  Look them in the eye.

You may have your hands full the moment they arrive, but it doesn’t hurt to stop and read their countenance as they walk into the room. What do you see?  Are they calm?  Or are they harried or concerned?  You don’t have to know all the circumstances behind their mood, but it will give you a clue as to how to approach them during your treatment session.

3.  Give the impression that you were expecting them.

Make sure you have a spot ready for the patient and get them settled in before they have to stand awkwardly in a room of people they may not know.

4.  Introduce them to others in the room.

Chances are, if you have been setting the tone appropriately, other people will join in and help them feel more comfortable. You can even start a conversation with another therapist or patient like “George is a USC graduate too.”

5.  Don’t forget the fond “farewell”.

After confirming their next appointment, I often times say “I’ll see you on Tuesday!” If I’m busy with the next client, I’ll make sure to say “goodbye” as they leave the room. On occasions, I’ll even walk someone to the door or to their car if necessary.   

Over the course of your career as a therapist, you will see thousands of patients, with different diagnoses and each one of them has a unique story.  Ian MacLaren, a noted Scottish author, once said, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be kind.  Always.”  A warm welcome or a kind word from a therapist might be the difference between a positive outcome or a negative outcome during their visit.

If you enjoyed this article, you can read more from Leila Olson on the NARA (National Association of Rehab Agencies) blog where she shares "Ten Tips for Treatment Success with a Person with Dementia or Cognitive Impairment".  


Author Bio:

Leila is a certified occupational therapist and has been an integral part of our team for over five years. She has a passion for working with older adults in outpatient settings, and her creativity and entrepreneurial spirit has enabled her to help thousands of patients over the years. Her warmth and generosity will bless you just as much as her skills as an OT.