Most physiotherapists want to be able to communicate in the best possible way with any and every client. However, this can be a real challenge, as ‘the best possible way’ is different for each individual who comes to you.
Getting it right is vital though if you want to help every client maximise the benefit of their treatment and create permanent changes with more ease.
Perhaps you’ve been frustrated by clients who seem to stop themselves from recovering. You genuinely want to help every one make the changes that will benefit their movement and quality of life long term. You don’t want to see some clients return time and again, because they keep repeating old patterns and behaviours. Nevertheless, you find you aren’t quite hitting the mark with every one…
The trick lies in understanding how a client’s language gives you important information about how they view their problem, pain or capability to heal. It’s in using this information to tailor your communication and approach to influence change at a deeper level.
If you’d like to be able to help change a client’s thinking for good…have you thought about Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)? It can aid you in getting better results in less time, even with the most challenging clients.
Curious? Read on to find out how.
In this article I’ll cover:
  • What is NLP
  • Building great rapport with anyone
  • Using language with precision to bring about change
  • Managing chronic pain
  • Understanding what’s really going on in a client’s mind
  • Managing stress and anxiety.
NLP is the study of subjective human experience and understanding people. It explores the relationships between how people think (neuro), communicate (linguistic) with themselves and others and their patterns of behaviour and emotion (programs).
The skills and tools of NLP were modeled and synthesised through observing experts in their field of work. Much is rooted in behavioural science and can play a positive role in engaging clients / patients in their own recovery via changing their thinking at a deeper level.
How can it work with physiotherapy?

1. Building Great Rapport with Anyone

The ability to connect and build rapport quickly is essential for any physiotherapist. Every client is unique. They might turn up anxious, nervous, frustrated or disinterested. They may have assumptions and beliefs about their condition and physiotherapy. So how you behave in the first few minutes can have a tremendous effect on your future work together.
Sensory acuity is the ability to quickly pick up on the details of a person’s verbal and non-verbal communication and is something we all use unconsciously. NLP teaches how to greatly enhance this and use it consciously to build instant rapport with anyone. Using enhanced sensory acuity skills would ensure all your new clients feel they are with someone who ‘gets them’ and they’d open up and trust you more quickly. You would have increased influence and they’d be more responsive to the therapeutic process.



2. Using Language with Precision to Bring About Change

As a physiotherapist, you are seen as an expert by those who come for help with injury, disease or pain. The way you speak can very much influence the client’s perception of their ability to heal. We tend to use language habitually. We’re often unaware of how what we say is really understood and it’s effect on others, especially when we’re under pressure. For example, if a medical professional gives a patient a diagnosis and or tells them they’re unlikely to fully recover, that patient will generally install those beliefs in themselves and produce results accordingly. In other words, they become self fulfilling.
Furthermore, we all have our preferred communication style. Problems arise when we talk to someone uses a different style as misunderstanding can easily occur. Think about it, have you ever had a frustrating conversation with someone that seemed to be talking a completely different language? Well it’s likely they had a different communication style to you. This applies to your clients too and can easily result in their misunderstanding or misinterpreting what you’re saying.
The conscious and precise use of language is at the heart of NLP. Through understanding the nuances of language and adapting your communication to each client, you can reduce misunderstanding, increase your effectiveness and influence greater change with them. Learning NLP language patterns can help you positively influence a client who has limiting beliefs about getting better, to start thinking in a more positive way. If you’ve built good rapport and your language resonates and connects with a client, then you’re likely to see greater results more rapidly.

3. Managing Chronic Pain

The issue of chronic pain is currently an important topic in physiotherapy. It’s now understood that such pain seems to alter the processing in the brain, whereby the nociceptors in the somatosensory cortex become over active and increase the pain experience. It’s also becoming more recognised that pain is very much ‘what we think it is’ – I.e. the fear of pain often increases perception of it.
NLP techniques that involve language patterns, reframing and suggestion have been shown to be successful in decreasing the level of pain people feel, both in the short and long term. Imagine how useful such tools would be in when working with patients / clients with chronic pain. By helping them decrease their perception of pain, they would be better able to focus and put energy into their rehabilitation programme and consequently speed up the healing process. They would be engaging the mind to help heal the body.

4. Understand What’s Really Going on in a Client’s Mind

Everything we do is based on an underlying pattern or process we go through, which, 90% of the time, happens unconsciously. It’s normal, our brains are wired to pattern match in order to cope with the all the information that we’re constantly bombarded with.
In NLP, these patterns or processes are called strategies and there are techniques that enable you to discover a person’s strategies for doing anything. In physiotherapy this would be useful for finding out how a client gets motivated, makes decisions or is convinced something will work. It could be used for changing an unhelpful habit or behaviour that’s hindering their progress to recovery. Being able to identify a client’s strategies would enable you as a physiotherapist to get really specific in your approach to each client. Not only this, it would also help to sell your services more effectively.



5. Managing Anxiety and Stress

Some people who come for physiotherapy can be quite anxious or stressed for varying reasons. It could be because of their injury or disease, fear about recovery, their work or lifestyle or it’s become a ‘normalised’ state of being for them. These negative states cause hormone imbalances, which can then affect the healthy functioning of other parts of the body, plus they use considerable energy resources. Being able to utilise NLP techniques for anxiety and stress reduction will aid in a client’s recovery through bringing more balance to the body and freeing up energy to focus on rehabilitation and getting well.
Here’s one simple technique for helping clients who get anxious about events the future.
  1. First identify the event causing anxiety and then tell the client to imagine how they’ll feel 15 minutes after the successful completion of it.
  2. Ask them to imagine what they’ll see, hear and feel.
  3. If they say it’s not working, then remind them to think about the successful completion!
This process encourages people to focus on what they want rather than what they don’t want. When your clients get into the habit of creating positive associations and feelings, recovery can take place more rapidly.
This technique is equally useful for physiotherapists too. You work in highly demanding profession that often involves dealing with complex and challenging issues. This can lead to performance anxiety and loss of confidence, particularly in newly qualified or returning professionals.
In NLP, there are a number of tools, including Anchoring and Reframing that can really support physiotherapists with managing their state of mind, their emotions and energy levels, especially when working under pressure. Being able to employ NLP techniques for yourself whenever you need them, would augment the quality of service you could offer and help increase the results in all and every client you see.
These are just 5 of the ways that NLP can be used in physiotherapy to help embed behaviours and aid recovery.
This article was prompted by recent discussions with physiotherapists who are thinking about different ways of working that could get better long term results with every client that comes their way.
If you’d like to know more about NLP and the possibilities for it’s use in physiotherapy, I deliver introductory NLP workshops across the UK and NLP Practitioner Training in Bristol.
For more information and to book, please get in touch on 0792 3367545 or contact me here.