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Helping People Find Their Language of Recovery

Thursday, August 27, 2015

David FestensteinCo-author David Festenstein (featured left) is a communication specialist, coach and professional speaker who made a remarkable recovery from a stroke which had paralysed his right side and left him unable to walk. More about his story can be found at www.strokerecovery.co.uk. To connect with David, please email him at david@strokerecovery.co.uk or by phone +44(0)1923 663275 in the UK or on Twitter @RecoveryGuru.


Recovering from an injury, procedure or stroke isn’t just hard physical work, it’s also hard mental and emotional work. After a hemorrhagic stroke, this is something David Festenstein experienced first hand. People are depressed and discouraged, and it’s easy for them to focus on what they’ve lost. These thoughts can actually affect their road to recovery. But positive thoughts can fuel a better recovery. Studies show it can affect the immune system (e.g. Kohut,  et al. 2002 and Blomkvist et al., 1994) and help people stay more socially engaged (Carver et al. 2003). But in the aftermath of something like a serious stroke, how can we help people get there?


Getting It Down On Paper


Ask patients to keep a diary where they (or if writing isn’t possible, a family member) can record their thoughts and frustrations and what’s happening. But also encourage them to write down anything good that happens or anything they’re grateful for no matter how small. David started by looking around at other stroke patients and realizing that even though his was bad, because he was left-handed and the stroke had affected his right side, he could still write. This reframing gave him a sense of gratitude for what he still had.

David tried to find a few good things each day and wrote them down. After his first shower and shave in the hospital made him feel human again he thought: “if I can have a shower and be clean every day, then i can get through this.”

Over time, the practice of noticing and writing down anything good adds up and help creates a more positive outlook. This also creates a record of progress where people can look back through it and see there is change, maybe change they didn’t notice at the time.


Helping People Find Determination


Also help people write down personal goals that matter to them. For David it wasn’t just to use his hand or walk again, but:
  •   To be able to hug my family with both arms
  •   To walk to the toilet and back
  •   To be able to type again on the PC
  •   To visit my dad in the care home


Writing With Belief and Intention


His physical therapist gave him what seemed like the strange “exercise.” He was to rest his paralyzed hand on a cushion and focus on it while opening and closing his good hand. Even though it wouldn’t feel like anything was happening, it would help his brain re-route its neural pathways. The act of writing through recovery is similar. It may not seem anything is happening, but our brain is processing our path through recovering and learning how to think about recovery.

During those days when he was just staring at his hand and nothing seemed to be happening David would think and also write: “I can do this. I will get there. This will happen.” He noticed as he used this kind of language, he felt it improved his physiology. And after a few days, his fingers just barely began to flicker. But that gave him the inspiration he needed to go two more weeks until he could open and close his hand.


How do you use journals as part of recovery?


Family members also find them helpful - to see that progress and process their role in recovery. Do people ever share insights with staff? Tell us your stories.

Tags: patient engagement, communication, personal healthcare
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