Elevating Therapeutic Rapport, Part 2

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How OTs can improve social awareness, increase emotional intelligence and build stronger therapeutic connections

Part 2 of a 2-part series.

The opportunity for change and growth is now. We have new tools to identify personal and professional emotions and have a solid understanding of what emotional intelligence is.

As I discussed in part 1 of this series in last month’s issue, emotional intelligence (EQ) is comprised of four domains.1

  • Self-awareness: being emotionally aware of how you feel, your inner signals and how those feelings affect you.
  • Self-management: being able to manage your emotions and impulses and to channel those feelings into something productive.
  • Social awareness: being tuned into the emotions of others and able to actively listen and understand other perspectives.
  • Relationship management: being able to motivate others, manage conflict and create a shared vision.
    Now that we’ve had the opportunity to self-reflect, label our emotions and identify our emotional areas of need, we can move forward and focus on implementing changes.

Connecting Emotionally

To manage our emotions we must first become self-aware of our emotional triggers. These triggers can be from past experiences, words, sounds or environments.

While working with clients we may encounter an emotional trigger. Often, we do not anticipate these events, which can lead us to react rather than rationally think through the situation.

To be highly effective in our therapeutic use of self we must become proficient at identifying and rationalizing our emotional triggers.

Recall a time while working with a client when a difficult or personally sensitive subject arose. Recall the emotions that came to the surface. How did you respond? Were you able to remain present for your client and continue the therapy session?

As we increase self-awareness of our emotional triggers we will be better equipped to stay emotionally present. It will take practice and time to create these new emotional habits, but it is possible.

Take time to mentally practice what you would do the next time the same difficult situation arises. Walk through each step in your mind. Label how you feel, recognize it is an emotional trigger, process your emotions and remain emotionally present for your client. By doing this, we improve our EQ and model a new strategy for our clients as well.

With a firm understanding of our emotions we will be in a fortuitous position to utilize our new self-management skills. As we recognize and label our emotions, we can manage and channel them into new external actions.

Again, take time to recall a therapy session that was emotionally triggering for you. Did you become quiet? Did you disengage? As you are more self-aware of your habitual responses you can work toward new management techniques.

Consider channeling your emotions into a therapeutic intervention. This will allow us to empathize more with our clients. By understanding our emotions better, we will be more conscious of our clients’ emotions.

As we find new meaning and acceptance of our own emotions, we are in a better position to recognize and respond to our clients’ emotional needs. OTs provide emotional support and understanding on a daily basis.

So how is this new, you ask? As we work with clients we will assume a new level of understanding and compassion. We will be better attuned to our clients’ and their family’s emotions. By being emotionally in sync we will respond in a new way that will motivate us, calm fears, elevate spirits and develop a shared set of values and treatment priorities.

Prior to this process, we may have lacked insight into the depth and power of our emotions. Without fully understanding ourselves and our triggers, we will never fully comprehend our clients’ emotions.

Motivating Others

The therapeutic OT process is client-centered and focused on improving our clients’ ability to engage in their daily occupations. We direct treatment sessions, participate in team collaboration and manage client and family needs.

The relationship management domain of EQ should be easy, right? Not necessarily. We may forget to consider our personal core values and our OT vision.

Productivity, reimbursement and healthcare bundles have changed the medical profession. We’re often asked to do more with less. Physical and emotional exhaustion can set in after we work long hours, days and weeks with possible overtime.

A work-life balance often becomes something we hold in high regard for our clients but forget to stress for ourselves. Learning to manage relationships with our clients may come easy to us; however, learning to manage our co-workers and administration can be more difficult.

It is imperative to recall our purpose, our values and our vision for ourselves as OTs. Take time to reflect on this question. Why did you become an OT? What do you love most about your profession? What are you currently missing in your OT day?

Once we define, or re-define, our vision we can firmly guide others on a shared course to a common goal. We can openly and honestly share ideas with fellow OTs, co-workers and healthcare providers.

Your vision may inspire others to embark upon a professional transformation. As we seek change within us or support change within our co-workers, there is a need for compassion and patience.

Elevating Therapeutic Rapport

Developing new responses means retraining our limbic system. As we know, change in the limbic system can occur with time and practice. Utilizing these new skills and approaches in our therapy sessions will allow us daily repetition.

We must be patient with ourselves, just as we want our clients to be patient with their progress. To inspire change in our clients and our co-workers we must consistently demonstrate the behavior we would like to see.

When we’re emotionally available to our clients, we create a new opportunity to utilize therapeutic use of self. We cultivate an emotionally safe environment that’s the foundation for building trust and rapport with our clients.

To be a catalyst of change for others, we must first look within. Challenge yourself to identify emotions that may have long been ignored. As we become more competent at overcoming personal emotional challenges, we can guide and coach each other through the same process.

By virtue of elevating our personal emotional understanding, we open the doors of opportunity to connecting with clients on a new emotional level.


References are available at www.advanceweb.com/otreferences

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About Author

Natalie Perkins, MEd, OTR/L

Natalie Perkins is a private practitioner and faculty instructor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo. Contact: natalie.perkins@colostate.edu

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