Why empathy is so important in Allied Health professions

By APM

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As an Allied Health professional, you’re in a client-facing industry. Every day, you’re providing care and support to those who are facing difficult and emotional periods in their lives, managing injury, disability, or illness. 

So, it makes sense that emotional intelligence is an essential part of being an Allied Health professional, right? Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, is an integral part of forming good physician/patient relationships, and is also critical in being a confident, supportive, and compassionate healthcare professional. Emotionally intelligent people are seen as more approachable and understanding, and studies have shown that when you’re empathetic towards clients, it increases positive health outcomes.

But what is it? Why, exactly, is it so important? And how can you further develop yours as you enter the professional Allied Health workforce? 

So, what is EQ?

EQ is the capacity to be aware of, and to control, your emotions. It’s important to both your personal and professional life, and particularly in a sensitive career where you are assisting people in vulnerable positions. 

It’s generally broken down into five main attributes:

  • Empathy
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Social skills

Why is emotional intelligence so important?

Having good EQ will help you understand your patients, encourage better interactions between clients and healthcare staff, help you work within a team, and manage your own stress levels. Allied Health roles can be demanding and emotionally taxing, and having strong EQ will help you maintain a positive emotional state and offer the best possible care to your clients.

Empathy

Empathy is a particularly important skill to have as an Allied Health professional. The ability to feel and show empathy will help you build a rapport with your client, as they will feel seen, heard and supported. Exhibiting empathy is a great personable approach to delivering care and improving client satisfaction. 

Delivering difficult or sensitive news to clients can be a tricky part of any healthcare position, but offering genuine empathy and compassion will help make these difficult interactions smoother.

The ability to put yourself in your clients shoes will help you understand what they are going through, and support them appropriately. Empathy from healthcare providers has been proven to increase client health outcomes, and is just generally the best way to fully understand your client and develop care plans for them accordingly.

Self-awareness

Self-awareness is an aspect of EQ that’s useful in every stage of your personal and professional life. But self-awareness in your clinical or healthcare position will be particularly appreciated by your colleagues, clients and their families. Being aware of your strengths, limitations and performance will allow you to grow and improve your skill-set.

You are more likely to ask for help if you are aware of your limitations. It's important to be able to ask questions and continually grow in your career, especially at the beginning of your Allied Health journey. Being self-aware offers you the freedom to learn and improve.

Prejudices or stereotypes

There is no room for prejudices or stereotypes in a clinical practice. Sometimes, our brains automatically jump to these stereotypes, even if we know better. Be self-aware and actively work on disassembling prejudices. See each client as they are, and get to know their specific needs and concerns. Empathy and compassion will help you look past the internalised stereotypes you may possess once you are aware enough to spot them. Every client's situation is different, so take good care to assess each individual scenario, rather than making assumptions.

Self-regulation

Closely related to self-awareness, self-regulation is your ability to manage yourself and your emotions, as well as the skills and abilities you possess. Within your career, this means that whilst you’re empathetic, you can keep these emotions in check. You also need to be able to take responsibility for your actions - give yourself credit where credit is due, but also own up to any mistakes you make. That’s the only way to learn and grow, after all!

Your ability to adapt and innovate depends on your self-regulation, so make sure you’re constantly checking yourself. 

Motivation

This largely relates to intrinsic motivation - that is, motivation that doesn’t revolve around things like money or recognition. Emotionally intelligent people are generally passionate to fulfill inner needs or goals, and as such are very committed and take initiative in situations. 

This is highly applicable in the world of Allied Health - it’s not about extrinsic rewards like money or fame, but about helping others. Your personal drive and commitment to that is important, and good EQ greatly impacts this. 

Social skills

Your clients will feel more at ease if you have competent social skills. Good social skills include making eye contact, using clear communication, and looking out for nonverbal cues. Understanding your client and how they communicate is key to providing excellent care. Being able to interpret body language is an invaluable skill to have.

Make sure you focus on growing your communication skills. Throughout each stage of working with your client, ensure you are making yourself clear, and that the client understands you. The good news is, you are likely to improve your communication skills naturally as you grow in your career.

What are the benefits of good EQ?

Working within a team

The ability to work well within a team will be important throughout every step of your career. You will need to possess a certain level of motivation and self-regulation in order to be able to work well within a team, and as you improve these skills, so will your value as a team member. As teamwork relies on contribution from each person, you must be self-motivated to ensure you pull your weight. 

The ability to self-regulate will mean that you can do your part and assist others on your team when needed. Understanding your teammates and colleagues is just as important as understanding your clients, and will ensure you can work harmoniously in a team.

Leadership skills

The ability to be empathetic, self-aware and motivated will help you to inspire others and be an effective leader. Apply the same EQ skills you use with your clients to your relationships within your group, and you will create a motivated team that works well together. Understand the needs of the people within your team, just as you aim to do with your clients. 

Avoiding burnout

Due to the emotionally taxing nature of Allied Health roles, healthcare professionals must be mindful to avoid burnout. Be aware of your own mental wellbeing and stress levels, and take care of yourself. This will ensure you are in the best possible position to offer good care to your clients.

Be mindful of your mental health, and seek help if you are struggling. Make sure you allow yourself time outside of work to unwind, relax, and maintain a social life. Emotional intelligence isn't only important when looking after your clients - you should apply the same principles to looking after yourself. Offer yourself understanding, and be aware of your own wellbeing.

Handling those difficult conversations

At some point in your Allied Health career (and probably multiple points) you’ll have to have tricky conversations with your clients, their employers, or their families. It’s just part of the industry you’re in. But having good EQ means you can handle these conversations and connect with your client, working with them to find a resolution. 

Improving your EQ

There are simple ways to improve your emotional intelligence. Be aware of your limitations and what aspects of EQ you want to focus on, and find the motivation to commit to improving.

The next time you encounter conflict, whether it’s between your colleagues and yourself, or a client and their family, focus on responding rather than reacting. The ability to distance yourself emotionally from the disagreement will ensure you are able to resolve it without causing further conflict. Keep calm during these stressful situations, and refrain from making impulsive decisions. Work towards a resolution, rather than an emotional outburst.

Emotional intelligence means carefully listening for clarity and understanding, rather than just waiting for your turn to speak. Use active listening skills, including paying attention to nonverbal cues, to prevent misunderstandings and ensure you respond properly.

Empathy helps you relate to others on a basic human level - a key aspect of being a healthcare worker. Understand that empathy is an emotional strength, and practice empathy in every interaction in your life. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes and imagine how you would feel in their position. If empathy doesn't come naturally to you, practice being self-aware and conscious of how you interact with your clients and colleagues. It's never too late to start practicing empathy and increasing your emotional intelligence.

Good EQ benefits everybody: yourself, your clients and your co-workers.

If you want to find out more about the importance of emotional intelligence in an Allied Health role, or if you want to increase your EQ, pop your details in the form below.

Published on Jul 16, 2021

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