During a seminar in physical therapy school, we were asked to complete the Myer’s- Briggs personality test. Once we all had our results, our professor read a brief description of each personality type out loud.
She told us there was one personality that made up an overwhelming percentage of physical therapists. We would be told which one when she got to it on the list.
When I heard my personality type described (ISFJ) I was certain that I MUST be the textbook PT.
Turns out it was actually my extroverted counterpart- the ESFJ.
Well, this obviously didn’t stop me from becoming a physical therapist. BUT, with time spent in the
What’s an Introvert?
Being introvert comes with a whole slew of stereotypes and misinformation. I’ve been “reassured” by friends with the best intentions that I’m not introverted because I’m “social” and “easy to get along with”.
Being introverted doesn’t mean I want to hide in a cave away from the rest of civilization (at least on most days).
Introverted is Not Synonymous With Shy
Surprise! This is a misconception that Susan Cain, author of Quiet, explains perfectly:
“Bill Gates is quiet and bookish, but apparently unfazed by others’ opinions of him: he’s an introvert, but not shy.
Barbra Streisand has an outgoing, larger than life personality, who also battles with a paralyzing case of stage fright: she’s a shy extrovert.
Shyness and introversion are not the same thing. Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments. Some psychologists map the two tendencies on vertical and horizontal axes, with the introvert-extrovert spectrum on the horizontal axis and the anxious-stable spectrum on the vertical. With this model, you end up with four quadrants of personality types: calm extroverts, anxious (or impulsive) extroverts, calm introverts, and anxious introverts.”Shy, Introverted, Both, or Neither (and Why Does It Matter)? Quiet Revolution. October 2015. https://www.quietrev.com/are-you-shy-introverted-both-or-neither-and-why-does-it-matter/.
Introvert vs Extrovert
So what exactly is the difference then?
It’s important to note that introversion and extroversion are on a spectrum. Rarely is someone one extreme or the other, but we do tend to lean in one direction (unless you’re a true ambivert- smack dab in the middle of the spectrum).
Energy: Introverts tend to expend energy during social events and recharge with time alone or quiet. Extroverts are the opposite, gaining energy from interaction and external stimulation.
Processing: We do a lot of our processing internally as opposed to our extroverted counterparts. They tend to think out loud for others to follow along.
Sharing: We tend to be more reserved, often giving off a feeling of aloofness or sometimes even arrogance. Extroverts tend to be much more forthcoming with their thoughts and feelings.
Knowing this, let’s look at some pro’s/
- It’s an energy-demanding career
- Most work time is spent with people
- Lots of small
- We’re GREAT listeners
- We think before we speak
- Our observation skills are excellent
- It’s easy for us to pick up on other’s emotions
What I’m getting at is, you do not have to be an extrovert to be
Here are some clinic hacks I’ve learned along the way to make my patient-centered career better suited to my introverted therapist needs.
Don’t Be Afraid to Eat Lunch Alone
I’ve been super lucky to always have coworkers I really like. I love chatting about life, sharing patient stories and making weekend plans together.
But, sometimes after a full morning of having my game-face on and holding conversations with patients, I just need a little alone time. It’s nothing against the fantastic people I work with, I just need some recharge
I used to think not always taking part in lunchtime social hour meant there was something wrong with me. Once I stopped caring, it made a world of difference.
Small break room making this difficult to pull off? Getting out of the clinic is probably even better. Find a nice spot outside or even treat-yo-self by eating out on occasion. Maybe switch up your schedule so your lunch falls during a less chaotic time.
Again, I love hanging out with my coworkers. But, on the days your introverted therapist self needs some recharge time (maybe this is every day for you), take it.
Take a Walk
A quite literal escape.
Getting out of the clinic gives you some necessary recharge time that both you (and your patients) can appreciate.
Something about just being away from your role for a bit feels awesome. You get to just “turn off” for a little bit.
If you’re lucky you might have a park or other designated walking path nearby, otherwise really anything will do. An old coworker and I used to take laps around other floors of the hospital for a bit to blow off steam. #scenic
Give yourself a mini escape from work to remind yourself there is a world outside of the clinic where you just get to be present.
And it’s awesome.
Let Your Patients Do Most of the Talking
I know some people that have a tough time with chatty patients.
They can take over a conversation, making it difficult for you to get a word in and subsequently get anything done.
But, these patients can actually be your saving grace under one condition… You have to be a master interrupter.
It takes practice, but once you’ve got it down you’re golden.
Why? Like I said earlier “they can take over a conversation”.
Suddenly, the pressure for you to come up with new topics of small talk to avoid the dreaded awkward silence is gone.
So, you’re off the hook! Well, almost. You do need to stay engaged and hear what your patient is telling you, but guess what? That’s what us introverted therapists do!
If a patient wants to tell me all about Sally from accounting and the snarky email she sent her, I’m here for it. As long as we’re still getting the work done that I had planned, we’re good.
If your patient isn’t as forthcoming with the gossip, try to start
Pro Tip: People love talking about themselves and/or family. Give them any excuse to.
Ahh, the universal sign for “I don’t feel like talking”.
We do it on airplanes, busses, the gym and basically anywhere we want to create our own “do not enter” zone.
This has been super helpful specifically when it comes to documentation time. Sometimes I’ve just gotta get in the zone and I want to give others a heads up of when I’m there.
Shifting my focus from writing a thorough assessment for my last eval to listening to a story about my coworker’s new puppy and back can be overwhelming.
Do I want to hear about all the new puppy stories? Abso-freaking-lutely.
Can I do it at another time when I can give my undivided attention? Yes.
My mind is at ease, productivity has increased and no feelings are hurt by my lack of undivided attention.
Switch Up Settings
So, while I cannot say acute care was my favorite setting (I was assigned to the cardiac and trauma ICU…) I did find that the treatment style
Outpatient rehab is typically more high energy and requires a lot more small talk. You’re going to be seeing these patients for more than a couple of visits, so you better get to know each other!
So have I ever considered switching to an acute care setting that would allow me some more introverted therapist wiggle-room?
I love the diagnosises I get to treat in an outpatient setting. The differential diagnosis aspect is something I’m not ready to give up.
And let’s be honest… I simply don’t have the stomach for acute care (so much respect for all of you that do).
BUT, if you’re not a wimp like me, acute care is a great option if you find yourself getting worn out by the outpatient grind.
Have a Your Own Desk
I’ve been in a bunch of different clinics as a student and therapist. I’ve had a desk in the middle of the gym, an office space, or simply no designated workspace at all.
Sitting in the middle of the gym leaves you open to any patient or passerby that wants to chat. While I enjoy connecting with everyone, I’d rather not do it during my much-needed lunch break or while trying to get
You need a space where you don’t feel like you’re on display or having to keep your game-face on.
I love having my own desk in a shared office space with my coworkers. It gives me a place to make my “home” without feeling isolated from my friends.
Create a “home base” for yourself that can serve as a safe place.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Everyone’s hyping up mindfulness and meditation nowadays and for good reason. They compliment each other perfectly and can make a big difference in how you feel throughout your day.
There are apps, guided recordings online and even live classes if you’re into that. Walking meditations are also available for those of us who have trouble relaxing in the clinic.
Incorporate mindfulness into your day to day activities allows you to be aware of your thoughts, feelings and what’s going on around you. It can help you keep you focused while decreasing feelings of stress and anxiety.
It’s like mental prehab AND rehab for the introverted therapist.
If you haven’t given mindfulness and meditation an honest try yet you should. There are plenty of resources available for you to get started (like this one).
Learn How to Fake It
While catering to your inner introvert needs is important, there’s gotta be some give.
We live in a primarily extroverted world. Likely, many of your patients are extroverts themselves. You do have to learn how to meet others on their level so that they have a good treatment experience as well.
The key here is learning how to fake it, and then how to turn it off.
I try my best to match the energy of the patient I am with. Getting into a groove where you’re bouncing that energy off one another is key.
Then as soon as that patient is gone, I turn it off.
It takes practice and I’m still not perfect at it, but something about “acting out” the extroverted role and just allowing myself to revert back after that “scene” is over is freeing.
You may run into trouble if you’ve got an entire caseload of high energy patients. In that case, try to ration that energy and take extra care to recharge during your breaks and outside of work.
Being an introvert should never be something to be ashamed of! Embrace your unique personality and honor the needs that come with it.
Any other introverted therapist survival hacks out there? Share them below!
For the new grads here, check out the 11 Things I Learned My First Year in the Clinic.