Developing Relationships with Patients When You Deal with Many Each Day
For therapists, building relationships with patients is the backbone of a successful and fulfilling career. Based on trust as much as skill, the patient-therapist bond is one of the most intimate of any that two people can have. Great therapists are constantly looking for ways to improve their people skills as much as they are their professional skills.
When dealing with many patients every day, it’s difficult to maintain individual relationships. Follow this guide to developing a bond with each and every patient.
Never Act Rushed
If the nature of your practice requires you to see many patients every day, chances are, your face-to-face interaction time is diminished – but the quality of your relationship doesn’t have to be. Never let pleasantries get pushed to the side.
Don’t appear hurried, even if you are. Patients who feel like they’re being rushed report resenting their therapist for making them feel like they have somewhere more important to be. Refrain from non-verbal cues such as checking your watch, doing two things at once or keeping one hand on the doorknob. Make the patient feel like they’re the center of your focus, even if you can only maintain that focus for a short while.
Many therapists wait fewer than 30 seconds before interrupting their patient. Hold out for as long as you can. By allowing a patient to speak for a few minutes uninterrupted – that includes you not finishing their sentences for them – you not only get an overall picture of what’s going on with them, but you instill in them a sense that you care about what they have to say.
This is a key element in any relationship. Listen – don’t just wait for your chance to speak.
Don’t Exclude Pleasantries
Busy therapists who have many patients and little time assume – probably correctly – that it’s in their patients’ best interest to get down to brass tacks right away. Although this is probably the most expedient strategy, it diminishes the patient/therapist relationship by omitting the human element of social discourse. By rushing right into the heavy stuff, the therapist fails to show their compassionate, human side – a side so desperately craved for by patients and often lacking from medical professionals.
Often, inspiration can be found through exposure to media presented by other therapists. Consider the following resources to help your relationships blossom:
- See Me as a Person: Creating Therapeutic Relationships with Patients and Their Families, Mary Koloroutis and Michael Trout
- The podcast about relationship building by Pastor Ed Young Jr. titled “Bridges: Part 2 – The Bridge to Somewhere.”
- The Patient’s Brain: The neuroscience behind the doctor-patient relationship, Fabrizio Benedetti
- Relationship-Based Care: A Model for Transforming Practice, Mary Koloroutis, Editor
- When Your Young Client is Defiant: Simple Strategies to Manage Defiant/Challenging Behavior
For patients, their therapist is often their best hope for a better life, and their only human connection in the complex and often frustrating world of healthcare. Building and maintaining trust is difficult, but imperative to a productive relationship with patients. For therapists, your career is built on your relationships as much as your skill.
Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about the health industry and patient care.