Monday, September 27, 2010

When Therapists Attack! Part 2.

Hello again,

In my last blog, I wrote about a less than ideal experience with physiotherapy. During and after the session, I was left in greater pain than when I started. Some may ascribe to the 'no pain, no gain', school of thought, but I am not one of them.

As my therapist wrangled and tangled with my muscles, my eyes teared up, I clenched up and I spoke up. I asked her if it was supposed to hurt this much but I received no answer. I told her again that I was in pain and to stop using so much pressure. Undaunted, she continued to knead me like bread dough.

Later that evening I felt incredibly sore and had difficulty moving. What bothered me the most was that my therapist ignored my repeated requests to stop. I felt violated. Any trust I had in her evaporated like the fumes of her liniment cream. I was angry with her for the next few days and vowed never to return.

Somewhere along my life journey, I was brainwashed into believing that I must remain silent, even in uncomfortable situations. It took years of positive self-talk and 'psyching' myself into believing that I even had a right to ask for my needs to be listened to, yet alone met.

As patients, we are often vulnerable. Some of us can be too trusting of our caregivers. Some of us, whether consciously or not, put our caregivers on a pedestal and hand over our power without hesitation. We assume we are in good hands and usually we are. But we must remember that our bodies belong to us. No one has the right to touch you without your explicit consent, caregivers included.

Sometimes, previously assertive people can suddenly become mute when thrust into the often intimidating world of healthcare, doctors and therapists, oh my! That's what happened to me. My doctor recommended this particular therapist and I trusted my doctor. Ergo, the therapist must be trustworthy, as well.

After a few days, I calmed down and decided I was indeed going to make a return appearance. The therapist's response would determine whether I continued with her 'care' or not. Believe me, I had a list of gripes and she was going to hear it.

When I entered the clinic, I was asked [by the receptionist] to pay for the appointment upfront. I calmly but firmly told her that I would not pay until after I had spoken with the therapist. My request was granted and I was ushered into a private treatment room. I went over the rehearsed speech in my head and took a few deep breaths.

PT (Physiotherapist) entered the room. She was pleasant, sat down and asked me what I wanted to discuss with her. I strove to keep my voice even and calm. My former assertiveness-training kicked into high gear. Using the 'I feel...' messages, I told her I was unhappy with my previous visit. I politely, but firmly, explained that my last session had left me in tears and triggered a flare-up of rebound pain. I explained that folks with fibro are already in pain and their pain tolerance thresholds are much lower than that of the general population. I stressed that I could not endure that kind of pain in the future if we were to continue a professional relationship. Silently, I wondered why PT didn't know this already??

My heart beat faster as I told her that I felt she had not listened to my wishes. If not said with an assertive, matter-of-fact voice, this is where the listener can become defensive. Stating your needs directly, without anger can go a long way toward improved communication. If handled with tact and assertiveness, this method should lead to a mutual understanding between client and therapist. Hopefully, a win-win situation for both.

I decided to empower myself and as a result, PT listened patiently and conducted herself in a friendly, professional manner. She did not become defensive or argumentative, as I was afraid she might. In fact, PT became extra attentive to my needs. She regularly asked how I was doing and how much I could handle. She never did adequately address my concern that she did not stop when I asked her to. At any rate, I got my message across and achieved what I set out to do.

It isn't always necessary to immediately end a client/therapist relationship if it isn't working to your satisfaction. If you're feeling unheard in your healthcare-world, by all means, speak up. I don't mean to imply that all contentious relationship can be solved with a mere chit chat. Sometimes, the fit just isn't right and it's best to move on. But, it doesn't hurt to try.

Sometimes a heart-to-heart with your health giver may be all that is needed. By developing the kahonies to express unhappiness with my present treatment, I received not only improved care - I placed myself in the driver's seat of my health beside a navigator (therapist) that I now trusted.


  1. Hi Cathy,
    I read Part I and II of this entry "When Therapists Attack"
    I Thoroughly agree with your solution. Though I must admit that I am usually too fearful to remain in a professional relationship like you experienced.
    I hope your words and gumption to ask firmly, directly and honestly for proper medical care rubs off on me.
    I too have had some situations that were intolerable and kept quiet out of fear, guilt and shame. This is something I wish to work on in the future and get the proper yet tender treatment that may be required.
    Thank you for sharing and by the way, welcome to Fibro Sense on Facebook and adding your blog to our site.
    Many Regards, Eileen
    my blog "heart 4 art & fibromyalgia" can be found at:

  2. Thank you for your supportive words, Eileen. I know how you feel. I grew up being very mousy and unassertive. It took a lot of time, effort, postitive intent, some excellent therapists and the love of my husband to shape me to be the person I am today. I turned 50 last year and it's like a switch turned on inside me. I now felt I could 'allow' or give myself permission to be honest and speak my truth. I wish it didn't take so long but it has been extremely freeing during this last year. I hope that you can find it within yourself to speak up for what you rightly deserve.

    Thank you for accepting my blog on your site. I appreciate it very much. I've put your link on my blog homepage.