How to Talk to Your Therapist

Most of my patients like me.  I take pride in that.

I’ve had some patients that haven’t liked me.  Very few.

Let me tell you why I think some patients haven’t liked me.

  1.  I know for a fact a woman didn’t want to see me because on her first (and last) visit with me, I put my hair in a ponytail, rubbed hand sanitizer on my hands and put on my gloves.  She thought that was dirty.  I was young.  So young (and still am).  I had just taken a course that said “Put your hair in a ponytail, rub hand sanitizer on your hands and then put on your gloves.”
  2. One woman saw me and on her first (and last) visit with me she complained that she couldn’t tolerate the smell of the disinfectant I had used to clean my room.  She also didn’t like the way our air filters smelled.
  3. Very early on in my practice I wasn’t helping a patient get better.  She felt worse after each treatment.  I wasn’t listening to her and I wasn’t willing to modify my treatment plan.  In my eyes, she was the problem because she wasn’t being patient and she was complaining too much.

Listing only three patients sounds conceited, right?  Yeah, it does.  But I have to tell you that these three patients made an impression on me.  These were patients early in my career and I took the feedback hard.  I am not a people pleaser in any way.  I am not.  I am probably, actually, an extremely selfish person.  But, it’s that selfishness that drives me.  I want to be good.  I want to know everything possible.  I want to give excellent care. That makes me feel good. It is this need to feel that I’ve done everything I can to help my patients that drives me – this selfish need, not any form of selflessness.    I’m sure there are other patients that haven’t cared for my services, but they didn’t make this clear to me.

Now, let me tell you why I think most patients like me.

  •  I listen:  Listening is active.  Yeah, yeah, that’s good Ted talk material, right?  “Listening is active.”  Now take a moment to let that sink in.   That is so cheesy that it makes me a little nauseous.  When I say this, what I mean is more than just “be present” when listening.  What I mean is that when I listen to my patient, whether it’s the first time I’m hearing their story or I’m listening to a concern, I want them to know I heard them.  I will often say, “I just want to make sure I’m picking up what you’re putting down.  So you are saying that ABCDEFG made HIJKLMNOP?  And then QRS made TUV turn around and WXYZ?”  And the patient will say “Yes!” or they will say “No, no.  ABCDEFG turned INTO HIJKLMNOP which caused an infection three months later in the QRS which was treated for TUV.  And that’s why my doctors say I have WXYZ.”  And I’ll say “Got it.” Or, if I don’t understand, I’ll say “Ok, I apologize that it seems like I’m not understanding this, I just want to make sure I really get the picture.  So…we’re just talking about the alphabet???”


  •  I work with them.  If a patient needs a patient advocate in their medical team – I’m there.  It’s a win win win.  The doctors get to know me and what I know and I get to know them and what they know.  The patient feels supported and knows that they don’t have to know all the medical jargony critical thinking stuff and they feel that they now have a representative that can speak on the same playing field as the doctor.  Because Lord knows, sometimes doctors just don’t think patients know what they are talking about.


  •  I brainstorm.  If a patient isn’t improving in the amount of time I think they should be improving, I take a step back, very literally, I stare at the patient and I just think.  I brainstorm.  I get diarrhea of the mouth – which isn’t necessarily a good thing.  I’ll pull out a piece of paper and say, “Ok, these are the things that could be going on.   If it’s “Thing One”, then these are the three things that can be done about it.  I’m capable of doing one of those three things, your doctor is capable of doing the other two.  If it’s “Thing Two”, we won’t actually know if that’s causing your issue unless this procedure is done first.  Here are the risks and benefits of doing that procedure.  If it’s “Thing Three” then you have these five options.  Now, which “Thing” would you like to explore first?  What questions do you have?  What worries do you have?  You look really worried, I can see it on your face.  What’s your concern?


  •  I change.  If I know exactly what’s going on with a patient and I know exactly how to treat it, but the patient doesn’t like the treatment approach.  I tell them I can change what I’m doing.  I tell them the pros and cons of changing my treatment approach and I let them decide how they move forward.

Here is my advice on how to talk to your therapist:

Start by telling them what you appreciate about their care.  If you don’t appreciate anything, like, not anything at all…just move on to another therapist.  If you do appreciate some things, let them know.  They are people too.

Tell them your concerns.  Be honest.  You are in a professional relationship with your therapist just like you are in a professional relationship with your attorney, your accountant and your hair stylist.  You would tell your attorney, your accountant and your hair stylist your concerns, right?

If you think your therapist gives you waaaay too much time to remove clothing before treatment, let them know.  Tell them that you change really quickly so you can have a bit more time in actual treatment.

If you don’t think your therapist truly hears what you are saying, tell them that you might not be communicating as effectively as you thought you were.  Tell them you want to try to tell them about your symptoms in another way.

If you worry that your therapist is just going through motions with you, ask them what other treatment options are available.  If they say “this is it”, then give them a big smile, quietly pick up your things and leave.  Make sure your make a fist with one hand, allow the index and middle finger to stand straight up, cock your head to the side and say “Peace!” with a little bounce in your whole body.  But, lower your voice when you say it and put some umph in it.  Then find yourself another therapist.

Update on the video on how to correct your pelvic alignment.  We completed shooting last week.  The video is now in editing.

No, that is not me.


If you have any questions or comments, please leave them anonymously in the comment section below or email me at [email protected]  If you’d like to be added to Alcove Education’s list serve, let me know!

One thought on “How to Talk to Your Therapist”

  1. Go to Sullivan PT in Austin and you will never experience any issues with the professional PT’s. This is a well run professional medical operation.

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