How Important is Empathy in Rehab?

A good client to therapist relationship is pure magic.

For someone in the middle of a mental health crisis, recovering from a major accident, or still reeling from a life-changing disease diagnosis, recovery can be a complex, emotional and winding journey. It’s a process of coming to grips with a new reality, getting to know the new version of ‘you’, and moving forward in life. A successful recovery involves acceptance, self-compassion, growth and discovery. 

Recovery HAS to be about more than simply ‘rehabilitation’.

As a therapist, supporting other peoples’ journeys can be a journey for us, too. We witness the highs and lows, and sometimes feel the emotional weight of our client’s challenges. 

On a purely professional level, it is something that needs to be managed appropriately, to safeguard our own mental health and emotional stability. But we mustn’t forget that we are humans, working with fellow humans. And on a personal level, it is this ability to ‘share the journey’ with our clients that leads to the most meaningful change.

Sometimes we receive surprise feedback from our clients that touches us at the deepest part of our heart, and reminds us of exactly why it’s all worth it… Here are just two that we have received of late!


From coordinating multi-million dollar projects, to being afraid to leave the house…


Aaron* was a self-employed Construction Manager whose career came to a screaming halt with the unexpected arrival of acute panic disorder. Having a therapist who was able to share the journey with him was exactly what he needed. His time with Auckland-based Exercise Physiologist Yolanda van Vugt was nothing short of special, for them both. Aaron sent us through an email to describe his experience:

“Yolanda has shown more wisdom and compassion than I could imagine. She showed bravery and allowed me dignity when I could not even walk 1km without stopping because of a panic attack.
With her gentle persuasion, expert instruction and a truck load of perseverance she got me to the top of our local lookout even though I stopped a number of times to breathe my panic away. I am now (albeit many weeks later) able to walk the same route without stopping and on my own.

To say that Yolanda has gone above and beyond is an understatement. I have thanked her many times but I just wanted to let your organisation know what a treasure you have on your books. Please pass on my heartfelt thanks and praise for Yolanda’s care and warm humour helping my road to recovery.”


Taking breast cancer in her stride…


Teresa* was a highly skilled Medical Science Liaison before the side effects of cancer treatment left her unable to work – and struggling with fatigue, pain, and anxiety. Jen Smallridge provided her with the specialist knowledge, kindness, and genuine support that she needed to ease her through her recovery, and back to work. In Teresa’s words:

“I am happy to report that I have returned to work on the 18th Jan as per my RTW schedule and thoroughly enjoying the new role. I am recovering well from my hysterectomy and my surgeon was happy with my recovery and progress.

Jen Smallridge, exercise physiologist, has been exceptional and really helped with fitness and recovery throughout my treatment and beyond. I do hope to have a few more sessions with her to continue to build strength and maintain fitness”.


When we receive feedback like this, out of the blue, it touches us just that little bit deeper. It reminds us of exactly what it is that makes this job so rewarding! That we have the pleasure to work with special people, and support them at a personal level as well as a physical level.

Thank you to our clients for allowing us to be a part of your journey!


Have you got a claimant that could benefit from the specialist support of an Exercise Physiologist?

Send them our way! Click here to make a referral.

* Names changed for privacy

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Author: Yolanda van Vugt