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3 Tips: Coping with Therapy Burnout when you have Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy (CP)

Emma Price

What is therapy burnout?

I started therapy soon after I was born. I started before I could even remember in the NICU. For many years, it was all I knew. I had physical, occupational and speech therapy three times a week for a long time. Once I finished kindergarten, I was discharged from speech therapy and my PT/OT was reduced to once a week. At that time, I added a new kind of therapy called horse therapy. For many years, I worked with PT's and OT's on posture, balance, trunk control, leg strength and learning how to ride a horse independently. I did a horse show every year. I slowly moved from having someone else lead the horse and people on either side of me, helping to hold me up, to using reins by myself and sitting up on the horse by myself.

Once I reached thirteen years old, I started to not want to go to therapy. I was tired of doing the same activities and working on the same challenging things in every single session. My parents and therapists could see the burnout and worked to change things up for me. My OT started working on more life skill things with me. The left side of my body is the most effected by Cerebral Palsy. She and I worked on using my left hand to make cookies and cupcakes. We also worked on life skills like drying my hair and tying my shoes. In PT, she changed it up by letting me take more control of my therapy and making it more like a game instead of work. She asked me what I wanted to work on and let me use dice to find out how many repetitions of each exercise I needed to do. We used swing sets to work on balance and a trampoline to learn how to jump and hold my balance while changing directions/positions.

Something else I really enjoyed about her, was that we went to different places to do therapy. We did therapy in a park quite a few times. We worked on stamina by walking around the park and used the playground equipment to work on balance on different surfaces and the workout equipment to work on arm strength. Some of my favorite and most difficult therapy sessions were the ones during my rehab from orthopedic surgery. I used a heated swimming pool to start walking again, going up and down ramps, stretching and working on leg strength and balance.

After these sessions, I always felt the most tired and sore out of all my rehab sessions. Even though these were the most challenging sessions, they were also the most fun/rewarding because I felt like I was really working my body, I felt like it was getting stronger and I had a great time because pool therapy was new and fun to me. Are you or your child having some therapy burnout or struggling to make it interesting?

Tip #1: Determine what you or your child enjoy

What do you or your child like? From a very young age, I loved music. My parents both went to college for music and I inherited the love/connection to music very early on. My parents could see this and incorporated it in my home/professional therapy sessions. Once I was old enough, I was able to pick my own music and the artists/songs that gripped me were always included in my therapy sessions. I didn’t know it as a kid, but I was more engaged and willing to work with music turned on. If you/your child like a certain toy, food, book, tv show, movie or music, attempt to use that to engage them during therapy sessions.

Tip #2: Change it up

Therapy is hard work. Every day, therapists are asking you/your child to engage in challenging activities, the activities that might make you frustrated with your body, that hurt and push you to work hard. This is a great thing because it will help make sure that you can do as much as possible. On the other hand, it can exhaust you, especially day after day, week after week, year after year. Once my therapists and parents could see that I was starting to feel defeated in therapy, they made some big changes. My occupational therapist started using games, giving me prizes after each session and having me try new foods.

Tip #3: Take a break

As a kid, I never realized that I could take a break from therapy. It can be grueling work both physically and mentally. On the occasion that my therapists needed to cancel an appointment, it was such a nice break. I’m so grateful that I had as much therapy as I did. I know it is the reason that I’m able to do what I can now. Also, it’s so important to take care of your mind and body, which can mean taking a break, sometimes. You can also give yourself/your child rewards every once in a while. Maybe a movie, a special lunch out or a toy that they’ve been asking for.

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