Let’s say you need to hire a carpenter. As you shop around online and browse the different potential hires, you see one who advertises his set of 20 different drills and power saws he likes to use to get the job done.
Is this the feature that gives you confidence in hiring him to build your deck, though?
Then why, as therapists, do we so often assume we will become better practitioners simply by taking countless continuing education courses on manual techniques and adding additional treatment tools to our practice?
I see many fellow professionals jumping on the con-ed train straight out of the gates, often as soon as they are immediately out of school. IASTM, ART, IMS; everyone wants to add to their toolkit. With so many options on how to treat a client’s pain, we would undoubtedly be able to reap the rewards of client and financial success, right?
Here is the deep, dark, reality of it, however.
At the end of the day, these courses just teach you multiple different ways on how to touch people. My explanation when clients ask me about the benefits of different types of treatment techniques is this:
“They are simply different methods of achieving the exact same goal”.
Essentially, having three different techniques under your belt is like having a hammer, a mallet, and a nail gun to join the same planks together to build a fence. It makes little to no difference in the finished product.
When I entered the work field, my first initiative was to simply get my hands-on clients and work on refining my foundations. Regardless of how many different methods I had to “release” a client’s quadriceps muscle, none of them will help me one bit if I don’t know when and why to do so and have a long-term plan to follow up with it. Whether I use the ART technique that I pay annually to display on my cards or the traditional massage strokes that I learned in my undergrad, I am going to achieve the same outcome.
What will be the difference-maker in your practice, then?
It will be if you can learn to use those techniques mindfully. It’s knowing where in the tissue to address instead of simply chasing pain. It’s creating an exercise plan coupled with proper education to put the onus of control into the client’s hands,
The only con-ed course I have taken to date, in fact, has been a joint-specific one on the TMJ. I didn’t feel the need to learn new techniques. I needed to understand anatomy and physiology better. Courses that help us refine our knowledge of how the body is structured and how it moves will be valuable. Even more valuable will be courses on truly understanding the mechanisms of pain, how to speak to our clients, how to properly educate them, and methods of moving them through stages of change as they recover.
“Soft skills” such as client communication and an ability to build a positive relationship with them are a much more valuable asset to a practitioner than manual techniques. We know from current research that a client’s predicted outcome improves based on how much they like their therapist, how much control they feel over their situation, and their belief in a treatment’s ability to get them better. The tool that you use to get these results isn’t made of metal, it’s made of trust.
In a professional climate where both clinicians and clients can find ourselves hung up on the latest, trending techniques to address pain, we often see a drop in quality of care because the clinician has forgotten to use those foundations. These types of practices, unfortunately, run the risk of poor client outcomes and treatment-reliance. While it’s ok to add a tool to our kit here and there, where appropriate, we owe it to our clients to constantly return to our basics (whether or not you want to incorporate con-ed techniques) and educate them on the real things that will help them find relief.
I don’t care how many different types of power saws the carpenter has. I care about if he knows how to properly measure and place the cut.