Empowering Clients to Solve Their Own Problems: The Role of Clinicians in Behaviour Change and Treatment Implementation

In the words of Michael J. Marquardt, “solving others’ problems is exhausting. It is much more effective to provide the opportunity for them to solve their own problems.” 

This concept, though simple, can profoundly transform the approach health care clinicians take when managing chronic conditions. Clinicians are adept at problem-solving, especially in critical care settings where immediate action is often necessary.

However, when it comes to chronic care management, the strategy shifts towards enabling clients to take charge of their health, fostering behaviour change, and ensuring adherence to treatment plans.

The Shift from Solver to Facilitator

The clinician’s role evolves from being the primary problem-solver to a facilitator of solutions. This involves guiding clients to uncover their own insights and strategies for managing their health. 

For instance, a physiotherapist may be working with a client suffering from chronic back pain. Instead of prescribing a general back exercise regimen, the therapist can engage the client in a conversation to identify activities the client wants to return to and collaboratively develop a tailored exercise plan that they feel confident they can follow and will help them achieve their goal.

Examples in Musculoskeletal Settings

Case Study 1: Chronic Lower Back Pain

A patient with chronic lower back pain may have received numerous treatment plans with exercises that they find difficult to adhere to. A physiotherapist could explore the patient’s values and preferences, which could lead to the patient themselves suggesting water-based exercises like swimming or water aerobics that they enjoy and are more likely to maintain.

Case Study 2: Post-operative Knee Rehabilitation

Following knee surgery, a patient might be reluctant to perform certain rehabilitation exercises. The clinician can facilitate a goal-setting session, where the patient establishes their own short-term goals based on their values. This empowers the patient to take an active role in their recovery and creates a sense of accomplishment that fuels further progress.

Case Study 3: Repetitive Strain Injury in the Workplace

A worker suffering from a repetitive strain injury might struggle with tasks at their job. A clinician can work with the patient to ergonomically adapt the workspace and discuss what other strategies might help like taking regular breaks for stretching or walking. The patient is thus involved in creating a sustainable work routine that mitigates the risk of exacerbating the injury.

Case Study 4: Osteoarthritis Management

A patient with osteoarthritis may be struggling with joint stiffness and pain. Instead of telling the client what they need to do, a clinician can encourage the patient to identify what they feel comfortable in doing and activities that are problematic. Together, they can create a daily routine that includes exercises they will do, rest, and hobbies that keep the joints moving without excessive strain, giving the patient control over their pain management.


By providing examples specific to musculoskeletal conditions, clinicians can see the practical application of empowering clients in their care. This client-centred approach not only fosters self-management and adherence to treatment plans but also aligns with the principles of autonomy and personal responsibility in chronic care. 

Clinicians who refine the art of eliciting solutions from clients will foster lasting behaviour change and more effective treatment implementation, resulting in improved health outcomes and greater client satisfaction.

Contact me to find out when I’m coming to your state for communication skills workshops: annettetonkin@gmail.com

CS4CS Communication Skills 4 Client Success Level 1 Workshop Adelaide 13th and 14th September 2024.

Contact us for details on this unique course run by myself and Bill McTigue

Annette Tonkin on annettetonkin@gmail.com

Bill McTigue on billm@mgolf.com.au

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