How to Tell Your Clients they Aren’t Making the Progress They COULD Be Making

There are many ups and downs when it comes to the relationship between a physical therapist and their clients. Whether you have been working with them for years, or have just started out together on your physical therapy journey, it is extremely important to always be honest. 

All things considered, there are definitely times where your clients really aren’t making the progress they COULD be making. But how do you tell them, be there for them during trying times, and still encourage change?

Constructive criticism is not always the most fun thing to deliver. Telling clients they are slowing down in their progress, or aren’t hitting their physical therapy goals as expected, are some of the hardest conversations to have. So how can you tell your clients that they could be making better progress? Here are some tips to make your in-person client meetings go more smoothly. Not only that, but also a few tips to put towards your PT blog and website!

Be Understanding

In order to help your clients you must first connect with them on a personal level. Human beings tend to respond more positively to bad news if it is from someone they have a more personal relationship with. Therefore, it’s important that you be understanding that they may not be excited about the news they aren’t making the progress they could be making.

However, your clients will need all of the encouragement they can get from you after you deliver the news. Because being empathetic is not always easy, it’s important to keep a few key points in mind when you’re talking to your clients about their progress.

Here are some factors to remember:

  • Always make eye contact.
  • Take it seriously and don’t joke around.
  • Take your time, and speak evenly (i.e. don’t yell, or become emotional)
  • Don’t be vague or cryptic.
  • Find empathetic ways of phrasing things.
  • Be sensitive to their emotional needs.
  • Focus on the positive for the majority of your presentation to your client.
  • Remind them of their progress so far.
  • Be encouraging!

Delivering news that may not be the most positive isn’t something you can just do in an instant. It really takes time to steady yourself, be empathetic, and still be encouraging for the future. Sure, there may be much better ways to deliver bad news, but you can start with these basic elements and move forward from there!

Find A Middle Ground

Finding a middle ground when it comes to your physical therapy clients’ current progress does not have to be difficult. It is imperative that your clients understand that there really isn’t any way to “Fail” in the traditional sense when it comes to PT. That their progress not improving in the time you had set together just means there needs to be adjustments.

When clients are not performing as they should be, it’s important to adjust to their needs individually. Perhaps your PT client simply needs to adjust their schedules to fit new goals. Perhaps the situation calls for being able to tell your clients that their progress can’t be found on a spreadsheet, or in a timeline!

Finding a middle ground means articulating that sometimes change can move slowly, as well as faster in some areas. If your clients are able to fully understand that there can be lulls in physical therapy, then they can fully comprehend there is room for change. Using the middle ground to point out that they could possibly be doing better will help inspire them to be more dedicated!

Help Them Set New Goals

One way to help your clients understand that they could be making more progress is to help them set and achieve more attainable goals. Their current goals may be causing them to feel overwhelmed, confused, as well as frustrated and annoyed. Finding out why their progress has stagnated, is just as important as helping them get back on track!

You need to have a discussion with your client about what would motivate them more in the long run. Perhaps your client recently had an accident, and used to run outside all of the time. Their indoor physical therapy may be limiting them, or lacking in inspiration. From there you can build new goals around a more outdoor friendly routine, or with more “fun” workouts in mind.

Another reason your clients may not be reaching for their goals is because their routines may actually be too simple! If they are not being challenged, and therefore not seeing results, they may be discouraged from moving forward with their physical therapy. Help them to set goals that aren’t entirely out of reach, but that will challenge them and allow them to see their progress.

Your clients will easily see the progress they could be making if they have a fresh perspective on their short term and long term goals. Not to mention a better understanding of where those goals will eventually lead them! How your clients start out in their physical therapy journey isn’t always the right path. It’s ok to reevaluate their entire PT routine to help them get back to achieving their goals.

Be Prepared!

Telling your clients their progress is lacking should not be founded in your personal opinions. You should come prepared to talk to your clients using hard facts, as well as evidence and examples. This will help you show them where the physical therapy is work, as well as the places that could be improved upon.

Being prepared will also help you to create new routines using their progress markers and previous routines as a jumping off point. Not only that, but you can find exercises in their files and in your notes that have the most positive impact on your client’s long term goals. Helping them to not only see where their old routines, or habits were lacking, but also seeing where they COULD be going!

However, being prepared doesn’t always mean being prepared as a physical therapist. You should also be prepared emotionally. Your client may not respond well to the news, or may become frustrated with the idea of implementing new exercises into their current rotation. Be prepared to be patient.

Don’t let your emotions take over. Be prepared for all outcomes when you tell your PT client something isn’t working. That way if it goes poorly, or if it goes really well, you are ready for both! You will also strengthen your client relationships if you remain calm, collected, as well as positive about their future!

Offer Help and Other Solutions

Your physical therapy clinic can only provide so much for your clients. If they aren’t making the progress they should be making at a certain point in their PT journey, then one way to show them how they could be doing more is to offer them help and other solutions outside of the clinic. That way they can collect resources, information, as well as vital support if they need it.

Using your website as an outside tool for your client’s progress is a great way to provide access to more information. Not only that, but also for you to branch out from your normal content! Write and explore new topics on your PT blog that can inspire your clients to reach their goals sooner. Not to mention you can create links to reputable scientific papers and other evidence based research!

You can also put your clients in touch with support groups. Perhaps you have a few clients who are struggling to articulate why they are not reaching their goals, but are willing to talk to other people about those obstacles. Going through physical therapy can sometimes require more personal connection than you are able to provide alone. Offering to connect your clients with someone who has been through nearly the same experiences as them may be the support they need. It would help them see where they could be instead of where they are!

Overall, finding unique ways to help your clients outside of the clinical setting doesn’t have to be a challenge. Whether you create resources for them on your own PT website and blog, or you set up a support system for them to help beyond their physical needs, the more options the better! Other solutions that don’t include the actual physical therapy may be the spark to get their PT journey fired up again!

Helping Your Clients See Where They WILL Be!

The progress and health of your clients is an extremely important priority. Not only for your clinic as a whole, but also for your clients! If you find that your clients could be making more positive strides down their physical therapy path, then you can use these tips to help them see where they could be.

You should be prepared for all outcomes, questions, as well as the possibility of major change. Not to mention you should definitely offer solutions outside of physical therapy in the clinical setting. Being patient and understanding with your clients, as well as finding a middle ground will also be extremely helpful.

Use all of these tips to create new routines and set new goals for your clients. Allow them to not only see where they could be, but in time, where they definitely WILL be! Find new ways to inspire your clients and help them on their physical therapy journey by using this guide. Your clients will be able to achieve their goals in no time with you on their side!

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