Family and caregivers play an important role in the rehab process

Support and Accountability: Family’s Role in Therapy

When dealing with an injury, people most often look to their family first for support. The presence of family or friends can improve patient outcomes at any stage in rehab.

As we all know, successful therapy requires positive participation from multiple individuals. From the day of injury or diagnosis to the end of therapy, these individuals all play a vital role in the healing process.

Of course, the primary players are the therapist and patient. But, don’t forget about the added advantage of including family members or friends at home or in the clinic.

Family and friends provide support in the clinic

When dealing with an injury, people most often look to their family first for support. The presence of family or friends can improve patient outcomes at any stage in rehab.

During the initial evaluation, the family member can provide additional information on the patient’s condition. They can help you gain a further understanding of how the injury affects the patient outside the clinic. This additional information can better aid you in developing a treatment plan that will benefit the patient and those around them.

After the evaluation, the family member or friend can continue participating in treatment. They can motivate the patient to give better effort or to push themselves more appropriately.

People typically respond positively to outside motivation by others during exercise.  With positive “coaching” during rehabilitation, a patient may be able to more efficiently complete the exercises for that day.

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Family’s role in home exercise programs

Many clinicians include a home exercise plan for their patients.  However, depending on various health factors, sometimes a patient may not be able to fully grasp or retain the therapist’s directions. This can pose a real challenge.

Having an additional set of eyes and ears can ensure the patient understands the home exercise recommendations. Even further, that family member can then become a strong motivator to get the client to perform their prescribed tasks.

How to include family or friends in therapy

There are many ways to get caregivers involved in your patients’ therapy. If a patient seems to be struggling with motivation, suggest that they invite a supportive friend or family member to participate.  Some patients already have caregivers driving them to therapy sessions. If that’s the case, get them involved! They could be a valuable member of your treatment “team.”

If the family member is present during the initial meeting, you should discuss their role moving forward the rehabilitation process. Invite them to attend therapy sessions if appropriate and emphasize the importance of having a support system outside the clinic.

Once a family member has decided to participate in therapy sessions, get them involved by reviewing documentation. When working with technology that produces a report, try to provide this document to your client and/or their family member. Review the document and make sure everyone present understands what it means.

During later evaluations, you could use this document as evidence of how their condition is affecting their performance. It can also show visual proof that the therapy is helping them on their journey to recovery.

Sharing documentation can be an excellent way to build rapport with your patient and to also keep them motivated to continue coming in to therapy.  When possible, feel free to print out these progress reports so the patient can take it home to share with loved ones.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the family member can provide accountability for home exercise programs. Be sure to lay out clear instructions on how they can be a positive influence in the clinic, but also outside. Explain your recommendations for home exercises, and ask for progress reports during follow-up visits.

Protecting privacy

Keep in mind that inpatient and outpatient facilities are subject to HIPAA regulations.  There may be times or locations where additional support members are unable to directly participate in the daily treatment due to these guidelines.

As a facility that encourages family involvement, consider having support members who attend therapy sessions also sign a HIPAA authorization form.  Review with those individuals what they are allowed to do or say when in the treatment area.

Not enough space in the clinic

Another limitation may be physical space.  Some clinics may not have room available for one or multiple family members to observe or participate.  In these cases, a thorough verbal review of that day’s session should suffice. During this discussion, review the patient’s achievements, limitations and goals for the next visit.  Make sure there is a clear understanding of what is expected out of each person.

In some cases, family members or friends may not be able to make it to each therapy session. Creating a plan of communication between the clinician and the family member is a good way to keep that individual involved in their loved one’s rehabilitation program.


Family and friends are important to our emotional and physical wellbeing.  When someone is injured, it is reassuring to know that others are supportive and willing to participate in their recovery. Having a supportive team both inside and outside the clinic will go a long way in the healing process. Whenever possible, encourage your patients to bring loved ones to therapy sessions!