How to Get the Most Out of a Session with Your Therapist

Oct 19, 01:02 AM

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

Whether you visit an aromatherapist, massage therapist, acupuncturist, herbalist, chiropractor or other complementary healthcare professional, you're going for one reason: you want to feel better. These professionals wish to work in partnership with you; none of them want to feel that they're simply "servicing" you. These relationships are a two-way street, and your active involvement and cooperation go a long way in helping you get the most benefit from your session.

Be on time.
Your session begins and ends on time. If you're running more than a few minutes late, call and say so. Late arrivals are sometimes stressful on practitioners, who must then figure out how to squeeze the optimum treatment into a shortened timeframe, often resulting in a less effective session. Don't expect your therapist to give you the full appointment time if you're late (especially if you make a habit of it), although some providers may occasionally choose to do so. Remember that there are other clients on the books and your therapist needs to stay on schedule. If you cancel on less than 24 hours notice or no-show, be prepared to pay up in full, and do so promptly. This isn't a policy your therapist has invented; it's standard industry practice among complementary and alternative healthcare providers.

Don't overstay your appointment.
Although no one ever wants you to feel rushed, "Take your time getting up from the table" does not mean take 30 minutes to relax, dress and leave. If you have questions post-session, your therapist will be happy to answer them, or should volunteer to call you later if there is another client waiting. If your therapist has an office at a private residence, as many do, maintain the same boundaries as you would in a commercial office space. It is not acceptable to invite yourself into someone's living room, dining room or kitchen for a lengthy chat or "hanging out" time... unless you've been specifically asked.

Don't be embarrassed about your body.
Your therapist sees all sorts of bodies all day long. It is immaterial to her whether you're too thin, obese, too short, have numerous scars, a tattoo you now regret, excessive cellulite, or a tendency to pass intestinal gas. These professionals don't judge, and find all bodies and their owners a privilege to work with. Many people who practice manual therapies feel that their work is necessary toward helping the client become comfortable with their body image. It is, however, proper etiquette to arrive at your appointment clean and to practice good hygiene. Unless you are at a high-end destination spa, most treatment areas do not have shower facilities.

Be honest and accurate during your intake session.
You will be required to fill out some sort of paperwork on your first visit, and the type and length varies depending on the provider and their scope of practice. This information is confidential, and used to help the practitioner determine the best way to develop a treatment plan. This is not the time to omit or lie about health conditions or medications because you are embarrassed or believe it "doesn't matter" to your outcome. Your omissions can cause further health problems if you are given an essential oil, herb or supplement that is contraindicated by an existing health issue or medication. Certain manipulations or types of bodywork cannot be performed on persons with certain health issues or require modifications in therapeutic procedures used. Should you experience a change in health or medications taken, notify your practitioner immediately.

Give appropriate feedback during your session.
If you are not comfortable with the room temperature, background music, environmental fragrancing, positioning of bolsters or equipment, or the amount of pressure being used during your session, then say so right away. Your therapist wants you to be comfortable and focused. If you don't want a particular part of your body touched, let the practitioner know (for example, many therapists will avoid the abdominal region due to clients' emotional associations with this area). If you experience referred pain (i.e., touching your left neck results in pain down your right arm), include this in your feedback as it gives clues about pain patterns, muscles, organs or meridians that may be causing dysfunction. When a practitioner asks if her therapy just made an area or condition feel better, worse or unchanged, avoid responding, "I don't know." Think carefully about how you are feeling, and give accurate feedback.

Learn how to stay in touch with your body.
This relates to the point made above. Many practitioners work with setting goals or developing functional outcomes to determine the progress of your sessions. If you don't pay attention to your body, act as if the therapist's questions are unimportant, or refuse to acknowledge daily habits that are detrimental to your health, your therapist will be limited in developing an effective treatment plan or assessing your progess. Think carefully before you answer a practitioner's questions: Did moving your favorite file drawer to the left of your desk help mitigate your shoulder pain? Does your hormonal imbalance cause brain fatigue that prevents you from focusing at work? Does the pain in your hip occur when you climb stairs or only when you're kneeling? Do you have trouble initially falling asleep, or do you just wake up repeatedly throughout the night? Would you feel a sense of accomplishment if you could lift your grandson without pain for 30 minutes instead of 10? Honest, accurate answers matter.

Respect your practitioner's professional training.
Unless you work in the medical field, it is likely that your therapist has greater knowledge of anatomy and physiology than you do. While giving relevant feedback is important during the session, don't disrespect the practitioner's professional opinion: "I know you are feeling lots of pain and tingling in your wrist and want me to spend the entire session in that area, but the source of that pain is actually the tight and shortened muscles in your upper chest and we need to focus our attention there." If a practitioner suggests trying a new technique or therapy that they believe will help with your health issue, don't refuse on the grounds that "it's not what I'm used to, just do the plain old adjustment you always give me." If a good therapist recommends home exercises, stretches, heat packs, supplements, a change in diet, etc., it's because she believes those adjuncts assist your recovery. Allow the practitioner to do the job you're paying them for.

Don't expect miracle cures or instant results.
There is no magic bullet, and few natural therapies take effect instantly. It may take several weeks or months of an herbal or essential oil regimen to see results. And it is amazing how many clients show up for a first time visit to a massage therapist or chiropractor believing that one session will completely heal a chronic problem they've had for months or even years. Don't believe anyone who guarantees that you will be fully recovered within X number of sessions... run, don't walk, from those practitioners! Every body has its own schedule for healing, and your personal timetable can't be predicted. If a good therapist truly feels she cannot help you, she will be honest about saying so and refer you out to another qualified healthcare professional.

The bottom line: take personal responsibilty, give proper feedback and treat your alternative healthcare provider as an equal partner on your healing journey. By working in tandem, you'll receive a higher level of care and achieve the best possible outcome from your therapy.

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