Building Your Professional Resilience: A Guide for Physical Therapists

Physical therapy is a demanding profession. You’re constantly on your feet, dealing with challenging patients, and facing the emotional weight of their worries, injuries and very often pain.  

That’s a lot! 

Being in healthcare is demanding. We have written before about managing difficult and abusive patients. Physical Therapists having to handle difficult patients and de-escalating tense situations is increasingly becoming part of the day job. Read more about this article here. 

So, it’s no wonder that burnout is a common problem in our field. But there is hope. By understanding more about what resilience is and recognising it in yourself, you can better manage the stress of your job and maintain your passion for helping others.

What is resilience? 

More than ever, we hear the word ‘resilience’. Apparently, we all need more of it! 

But what is it? Is it just the ability to carry on regardless?

Resilience (noun):

  • The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness.
  • The ability to adapt to or recover from change, disruption, or failure.

Late Middle English (in the sense ‘ability to rebound’):
From Latin resilire –  ‘leap back, rebound’.

So, what does that look like for us? 

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity, challenges, and setbacks. It’s not about ignoring difficulties or pretending they don’t exist; it’s about developing the mental and emotional strength to cope with them in a healthy and constructive way.

Why is Professional Resilience Important for Physical Therapists?

Building professional resilience is essential for Physical Therapists for several reasons:

  • Reduces burnout: By learning to manage stress effectively, you can decrease your risk of burnout and maintain your enthusiasm for your work.
  • Improves patient care: When you’re feeling resilient, you’re better able to provide compassionate and effective care to your patients.
  • Enhances job satisfaction: Building resilience can lead to greater job satisfaction and a more fulfilling career.
  • Your own mental health:  Being resilient at work means a happier, well-rounded you in every aspect of your life.  Developing the ability to cope well with what the world throws at you also lifts and supports the people around you. 
  • A stronger team: We learn and develop from each other. You are better placed to support your colleagues if you are resilient and a good role model.

The Unique Challenges of Physical Therapy

As physical therapists, we witness the incredible resilience of the human body firsthand. We see patients overcome injuries, regain mobility, and push their physical limits. But what about our own resilience? The demands of our profession can be emotionally and physically draining, and it’s important that we have the tools to cope with stress and adversity.

The Harvard Business Review article “The Secret to Building Resilience” offers valuable insights that can be applied to our work as physical therapists. The article highlights the importance of self-awareness, positive reframing, and building strong relationships. By understanding our own triggers and reactions, we can better manage our emotions in challenging situations. Positive reframing allows us to see setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning. And strong relationships with colleagues, friends, and family provide us with a support system that can help us weather difficult times.

Building resilience is an ongoing process, but by incorporating these strategies into our lives, we can better manage the demands of our profession and continue to provide the best possible care for our patients.

How to Build Your Professional Resilience

Here are some tips for building your professional resilience:

  • Develop a positive mindset: Focus on the positive aspects of your job and the difference you make in your patients’ lives. Use that positive framing. 
  • Set boundaries: You don’t have to ‘put up’ with bad behavior, from wherever that comes from. Patients do not have the right to take out their frustrations on you. Decide how you will handle tricky situations and stick to your own script. Ask colleagues to support you. 
  • Know yourself: Recognise your own triggers and emotions. We all have behavior patterns, try to spot burnout and overwhelm early. Don’t wait until you’re struggling. Reach out when you first feel the signs and put your plan into action. You know yourself better than anyone, just pay attention to your actions and feelings. 
  • Practice self-care: Make time for activities that help you relax and recharge, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones. Build these into your day as a foundation, not as a ‘nice to have’.
  • Set realistic goals: Don’t try to do too much at once. Set small, achievable goals and celebrate your successes along the way. Physical Therapy is a physically and emotionally demanding job.
  • Seek support: Talk to colleagues, friends, or family members about your challenges. Strong relationships are shown to be an important element of your own resilience. There are many resources available here, at the Sisu Practice to help you cope with stress and challenges. 
  • Learn from your mistakes: Everyone makes mistakes, it’s what makes us human. The important thing is to learn from them and move on. 
  • Focus on the present moment: Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future. Focus on what you can control in the present moment.
  • Be kind to yourself: Remember that you’re not perfect. Accept your limitations and forgive yourself for your mistakes.

Additional Resources

American Physical Therapy Association:

National Institute of Mental Health:

Harvard Business Review:

Can you bounce back?

Building professional resilience is an ongoing process. There will be times when you feel overwhelmed, but by following these tips, you can develop the skills and strategies you need to bounce back and thrive in your career. Remember, you are not alone in this journey. The Sisu Practice is here to help you along the way.

By taking steps to build your professional resilience, you can ensure a long and fulfilling career as a physical therapist. You’ll be better equipped to handle the challenges of the profession, provide compassionate care to your patients, and find lasting satisfaction in your work.

Supporting Clinicians Through Mentorship and Community

The Sisu Practice offers one-on-one mentorship for therapists at all career stages to help build confidence, resilience, and coping skills when faced with demanding patients.

Founded by physical therapist Dr. Hollie Neujahr, The Sisu Practice understands the unique challenges clinicians face in upholding boundaries and managing difficult patients – and situations – in today’s complex healthcare environment.

The Sisu Practice offers a range of resources to help therapists build confidence, resilience, and coping skills: one-on-one mentorship, assertiveness training, and an online community. Through self-care, communication tactics, and peer support, The Sisu Practice empowers therapists to thrive in their practice. A valuable resource/