Rehabilitation specialists need to manage both the physical and psychological effects of injury on an affected worker. I do complex case management primarily in the psychological space and liaise with treating health practitioners to create suitable plans for clients that deal with both mental and physical barriers.
As allied health professionals, we want to help people. I think the most important thing we can do is be authentic and transparent, and make sure the client and employer know we have no agenda. We are simply there to support them in any way we can.
Common challenges faced by injured workers
There are the obvious physical effects of injury, such as the pain cycle. This disrupts daily functioning, like eating and sleeping. But the psychological impact can be far-reaching too, and it’s important to be aware of the distress and problems this causes.
During the adjustment process after being injured, a lot of people have a grief response thinking about what they’ve lost. They think about what they can’t do and fall into a negative mindset. I find that men in particular can suffer a loss of identity, because men do tend to define themselves by their job.
There can also be a change in the dynamics of relationships – for example, they can’t play with their children, they may have trouble with intimate activities, or they may no longer be the breadwinner – which can lead to low self-esteem and place strain on relationships. And financial difficulties and feeling isolated can make them even more depressed and withdraw socially.
All of these factors put up barriers to a healthy state of mind and an ultimate return to work.
Shaping a positive recovery journey
Our role as rehabilitation providers is to guide the client’s recovery and return to the workplace with support, and help in accessing the treatments and services available to them. The best way to help them is by being really open in our communication, answering any questions and being responsive and dynamic.
We always need to be understanding about their other issues as well, such as caring, legal or financial responsibilities.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to develop graduated return to work plans for individuals. We start with perhaps 12 hours a week and after a couple of weeks, go up to 16, then 20, and so on. We also look at modifying their duties if something is not appropriate, like heavy lifting for example. It’s about slowly building their capacity for work and building their resilience in being engaged in the workplace.
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