If you're recovering from a significant injury or illness, a rehabilitation therapist could be a big help in getting back to your normal daily life, according to experts.
"You don't get a manual that comes with your injury that tells you how to navigate returning to your usual pattern of functioning," said Brigid Waldron-Perrine, a rehabilitation psychologist at Michigan Medicine-University of Michigan.
"In many cases, there are cognitive, behavioral or emotional barriers to progress that patients may not understand or know how to manage," she said in a university news release. "As experts in human functioning, that's where we can be useful guides."
About 25% of Americans -- more than 60 million -- have some type of disability, and millions are evaluated each year for traumatic brain injury, stroke, heart attacks and other conditions that can affect mobility, thinking or other day-to-day functions.
In many cases, there is no single path to recovery, and this uncertainty can worry patients, according to Waldron-Perrine.
"There is this sort of internalized belief in society that medicine is certain, but when you actually find yourself in the health care system, you realize very quickly that there is a great deal more uncertainty in medicine that anyone would have ever guessed," she said. "Physicians often do not have the skill set or tools to respond to your discomfort with uncertainty."
Rehab psychologists address that uncertainty by assessing patients' mental, emotional and physical struggles to help them surmount barriers to recovery.
For examples, a rehabilitation psychologist could be brought in if a patient who had a stroke due to high blood pressure or diabetes keeps ending up back in hospital because they don't understand or can't follow a doctor's instructions.
"We encourage the patient to understand their own needs and to assert those needs within the system, while assisting the system in meeting the care needs of the patient," Waldron-Perrine said.
Often, she said, addressing communication issues or identifying problems can cut costs of rehospitalization or unnecessary treatment.
Dr. Ted Claflin, associate director of the Michigan Medicine Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility, said rehab psychologists' understanding of human behavior allows them to better understand mental and emotional issues after a significant medical problem.
"They can help people adjust to a new diagnosis, stay motivated during their recovery or deal with the emotional aftermath of hospitalization and/or treatment," Claflin said in the release.
There's more on rehabilitation at the World Health Organization.
SOURCE: Michigan Medicine-University of Michigan, news release, March 29, 2022