Or how about when you doubted your ability to finish a race or make a deadline, but your team leader saying she believed in you made all the difference?
It turns out that this trust, which is necessary in collaborative settings, is even more critical when it comes to neuromuscular rehab...
Last weekend, I had the honor (and excitement!) of joining my trainer, Stephanie, in presenting the basics of our recovery approach to a group of Pilates instructors in Orange County, California. Over the summer, Stephanie was asked by the mother of a recently spinal-injured young man to help train his therapists and, since the evolution of our style has been such a collaborative back-and-forth, Stephanie wanted this to be a joint presentation with me.
Over several weeks, we kept a notebook of our strategies for creating links between the brain and paralyzed muscles – from the more technical aspects of exercises, to more nebulous elements like what it feels like to connect to a movement in an entirely new way. What emerged from our intense writing, photography and graphic design effort was a colorful manual that in many ways introduces the what, the how, and the why of our approach. It took lots of work, with many late nights, but we’re very proud of the result as a means to describe our method in support of the workshop.
Stephanie and I had the goal of not only giving the trainers the tools they needed to apply their existing knowledge of movement to a spinal-cord-injured body, but also to help them understand just how profound the possibilities are for such a client to recover function. This is hugely important work – we’re talking about abilities like sitting up straight, feeling one’s own body, living independently. These are life-changing skills! With relatively little help, these trainers could have so much power to help the thousands who need it! All they require is some guidance about how to enable their SCI clients to connect; for example, regressing complicated multi-planar exercises to their basics and supporting a body that is not yet able to support itself properly.
We wanted the group to understand their potential for facilitating bodily re-connection, and to truly believe in the process, so they would feel excited and confident in helping their current SCI client the very next day. Not to mention many others in the future…
These goals are highly relevant, but after getting to know better the group who invited us, we realized what had to be in-place before Pilates techniques could be effective: mutual trust between the recovering client and the neuro-recovery trainer. If one does not have confidence in the other, all bets are off.
Second, the client can have his entire world changed – for good or bad! – by the attitude of his trainer. Why is this relationship such a significant element in SCI recovery? Because when the actual regaining of function is dependent on the mindset of the individual (it always is), and when that mindset is dependent on the intrinsic belief that healing is possible, the therapist finds herself midway through a rehab session at the intersection of hope and despair for her client. This is because:
- successful connection means hope > belief > mental commitment > eventual progress in one way or another > more evidence for belief
- unsuccessful connection means despair > disengagement > dis-motivation > further frustration for both when progress doesn’t come
At the moment when the scale could be tipped in either direction, the trainer has the power to nudge it toward the positive side:
- good or bad connection > “This is just part of the process!” > belief that further commitment will enable change > back to work!
This is the constant psychological battle that plays out over minutes and months alike and, during a time when there is much uncertainty about the future for someone who has just lost access to most of his body, the therapist can keep the commitment boat afloat. A few ways she does this are:
- being unrelentingly positive;
- honing the ability to identify the smallest bit of progress when it happens, so that she can help her client notice and believe in the same;
- developing an innate understanding both of how her client connects to exercises, and of why he is motivated to recover.
As you can see, awareness and trust in this relationship are critical for rehab when working with a therapist, just as they are in so many other settings: student-teacher, player-coach, community-police, public-government.
Think about trust when you think about the Black Lives Matter movement, and about Colin Kaepernick’s protests to unquestioningly stand literally and ideologically for the anthem of a country with a justice system that he and others view, and many statistics* point out, to be racist. How about Monday’s Presidential Debate for a contest that will be decided essentially on how trustworthy voters view each candidate? I think a lot about how we exhibit our inner selves in the relationships we have, because mutual trust is crucial for any collaboration, from SCI-recovery to participatory democracy.
*Read this NYT piece from last year and note how little seems to have changed in instances of police shootings. Also, regarding 'trust,' check out trustprize.org. My friend Miles is working to establish an award to honor communities that "build collaboration and partnership with local law enforcement."