Making the primary contact | HealthSkills Blog

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How do we start working with somebody who is asking for assist with their persistent pain? In this put up I’ll describe a few of the issues I’ve after I start, as a result of as Benedetti factors out, the “meet the therapist second” is one of the vital potent instances within the therapeutic ritual (Benedetti, 2011). It’s the time when the individual’s expectations and the clinician’s empathy and competence meet, and the “that means response” blooms.

My two scientific questions are:

  1. Why is this individual presenting on this means presently, and what’s sustaining their predicament?
  2. And what is this individual’s important concern?

But before I ask these questions, I need to take a second to consider the individual and what is perhaps occurring in his or her thoughts.

Benedetti factors out that expectations are an vital a part of a response to therapy – whether or not that therapy has any lively motion, or not. Expectancies are about what an individual brings to a therapeutic encounter: there are two, one is stimulus expectations (anticipations of exterior occasions – eg that the subsequent painful expertise will be much less), and the opposite is response expectations (predictions of your personal nonvolitional response – eg that after doing this factor, I anticipate to expertise much less pain) (Kirsch, 1985).

People who come to see a clinician, particularly a clinician from a little-known occupation (occupational remedy!) will maintain expectations about what that individual will do, however these will doubtless be weaker than the expectations an individual may maintain about seeing a well-known occupation. The energy of an expectancy is totally different from the path of an expectancy – for instance, a destructive expertise with a physiotherapist may result in a strongly destructive expectancy about future therapies, without having had an expertise with an occupational therapist may result in a weakly constructive expectancy about what’s about to occur.

Along with expectations, the individual will doubtless be concerned about what’s to come back. The risk of one thing that may assist (or not), assembly a brand new clinician, and living with pain are all stressors – and anxiety erodes an individual’s skill to soak up a number of info, whereas biasing them in the direction of remembering threatening phrases (Reidy & Richards, 1997).

So there’s lots occurring within the individual’s thoughts once they attend that first session.

There’s also usually a big energy imbalance (Joseph-Williams, Edwards & Elwyn, 2014). This emerges from the actual fact that usually clinicians maintain much more details about the individual we’re seeing than they do about us. Especially after we’ve requested a bunch of questions, usually fairly intimate in nature. For an individual looking for assist, this imbalance could make it exhausting to ask questions, to direct the dialog, to carry a way of independence all through the encounter.

So having set the scene for you, I’m certain you’ll be able to agree that how we go about gathering info from an individual is extremely vital – particularly so that relationship can start to construct.


In the introduction, I search to present the individual some details about who I’m – not simply as a clinician, and the sort of therapies I use, however also about who I’m. I’ve drawn inspiration from tikanga Māori right here, the place the cultural custom entails letting the individual know the place I come from and who I’m related to. I prefer to let folks know my childhood roots are in Turanganui a kiwa, or Gisborne. That the mountain my coronary heart connects with is Mount Hikurangi – the primary mountain in NZ to see the solar. The river I join with is the Taruheru, flowing into the ocean in Gisborne. I also let folks know my whanau connections – the Lennox’s, and the Thompson’s, are my whanau (prolonged household), and I’m a fifth era New Zealander. I now live in Otautahi/Christchurch. This introduction solely takes a couple of minutes, and your tradition may not worth this type of introduction. For me in Aotearoa/New Zealand, it’s a method I can present respect and comply with a practice that means the individual I work with is aware of one thing extra about me than simply my title.

I also embrace my occupation – what I do. I’m an occupational therapist, my job is to assist folks do what issues of their life contexts.

I prefer to then let the individual know that they’re courageous and brave for looking for assist – it’s not straightforward to say you’ll be able to’t do that by yourself. It takes braveness to inform somebody that.


Then I open with a broad query about what has led this individual to come back to see me. I’d add in one thing about “inform me about your pain and what you’ve finished thus far for it.” I’ll usually ask what their principle is about their pain, what they assume is occurring.

Then I ask “What is your important concern at the moment?”

Throughout this course of I’m reflecting what I’ve heard, to make sure I’ve understood what the individual has skilled. I’m NOT giving reinterpretations, I’m NOT giving out new info, I’m simply listening.

I usually spend time asking about 4 areas of life: relationships, enjoyable, work, and well being. Or I’d ask the individual to take me by way of a typical day, from the time they get up.

I like to search out out not simply what the individual has finished to assist themselves, however also what they’ve realized from these experiences. The messages they’ve acquired over time, and the issues they’ve tried however maybe didn’t like or that didn’t assist.


I used to be a giant fan of questionnaires crammed out forward of time, and I’m nonetheless a fan however don’t use them as a lot. This is primarily as a result of so many individuals have crammed out countless questionnaires and no one has sat down with them to speak about what they imply! So I’m just a little extra selective and focus rather more on listening first then selecting one thing that will supply me and the individual some perception into what is perhaps occurring. For instance, I’d select the PASS20 (McCracken & Dhingra, 2002) as a result of it helps me determine out the place to start with decreasing pain-related anxiety. It’s measure to use every week to trace modifications over time, and I’m starting to delve into repeated measures of progress reasonably than a pre-post-follow-up method that’s typical.


Covid has meant it’s not as straightforward to hold out observational assessments, however I’m all the time watching how the individual sits, strikes, walks, and body language. What I’m not doing is deciphering these observations with out speaking to the individual about them! Too many clinicians make judgements in regards to the individual based mostly on perhaps one or two observations, out of context of the individual’s life and surroundings, and with out checking in with the individual to work out what is perhaps contributing to what they see. Let’s not do that – the individual is perhaps utterly oblivious that they’re guarding their sore hand, or they maintain shifting within the chair, or that a ordinary motion like taking a jacket off is perhaps simpler to do than being requested to carry out some bizarre motion on the command of the clinician!

Pulling all of it collectively

Just as we wouldn’t anticipate to be marched in for surgical procedure straight after our first session with an orthopaedic surgeon, I don’t consider it’s OK to supply one thing to an individual on their first go to simply because we really feel inner stress to take action. Having mentioned this, I will usually recommend to the individual that they spend a little bit of time performing some temporary “noticing with out judging” workouts. We’ll give it a go at this primary appointment, so that they’re not being anticipated to go do it with out understanding how. The cause I begin with temporary noticing experiments is that it’s one thing we may all do extra usually, it provides the individual a brand new talent (often) to develop, and it’s usually an introduction to being totally current with out judging. Being totally current with out judging is exhausting to do whenever you’re sore as a result of the thoughts likes to anticipate how dangerous it’s going to be (“you’ll must take it very quietly or you’ll pay for it”) or bear in mind earlier pains (“final time you simply sat round your pain went nuts, you don’t need to threat that now do you?”).


I write conversational notes on to the individual, going by way of what we’ve talked about and pulling collectively all the data I’ve gathered on this first assembly. I discover it helps me to make sense of what’s occurring, it permits me a while to replicate on what I’ve noticed and heard, and I can assemble it in a case formulation that the individual and I can discover if/once we meet once more.

Assessment is by no means over. Every time I meet with an individual I’ll be studying extra about what’s occurring. I don’t really feel pressured to “discover all of it out” at that first session simply because there are objectives that should be developed. In reality, one purpose I go away in for everybody is “develop objectives” (well, I don’t use purpose language – it’s extra about instructions and actions that take you there). Because severely, how can anybody meet somebody and instantly develop objectives – that’s disrespectful to the one who could not have had time to consider what issues probably the most, and it’s disrespectful to the complexity of purpose setting as a course of anyway.

Theme and variations

I’ve written one method I use for studying in regards to the individual I’m attempting to assist. There are others – a time line, drawing a life map, mind-mapping, strolling and speaking, making a espresso – all of those and extra might be used to discover the identical info.

Let’s not name it “the subjective” – let’s name it what it is, our first “attending to know you” assembly.

Kirsch, I. (1985). Response expectancy as a determinant of expertise and habits. American Psychologist, 40(11), 1189–1202.

Joseph-Williams, N., Edwards, A., & Elwyn, G. (2014). Power imbalance prevents shared determination making. Bmj, 348.

McCracken, L. M., & Dhingra, L. (2002). A brief model of the Pain Anxiety Symptoms Scale (PASS-20): preliminary growth and validity. Pain Research & Management, 7(1), 45-50.

Reidy, J., & Richards, A. (1997). Anxiety and memory: A recall bias for threatening phrases in excessive anxiety. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 35(6), 531-542.

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