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Needs and our well-being, not one much for theory...well usually!

feel live think Aug 24, 2020

Last week I was treating a clinical client of mine who is working on her PhD and found ourselves discussing some of the challenges facing therapy professionals today.  She asked me if I was familiar with 'Self-Determination Theory'.  Off the top of my head I wasn't, so she gave me a brief summary describing it as the innate human need for autonomy, competence and relatedness.

I'm absolutely familiar with these 3 needs along my journey as a physical therapist, and each to varying degrees throughout the last 22 years.  What has become clear as I explore this theory is knowing that what we all feel we need, is the Truth.  And we each continue to seek these 3 needs in order to fuel us, to ground us, to allow us to become our fullest self, there is science to encourage us in that pursuit.  

Here's my attempt at brevity to summarize the Self-Determination Theory, or SDT.  It links personality, human motivation, and optimal functioning (Deci & Ryan, 2008).  This theory has a more personal and psychological-relevant meaning for therapy professionals today: the ability or process of making one’s own choices and controlling one’s own life.

I highly recommend you check out this quick 2 minute video explanation by Camp Stomping Ground.  God knows I can only draw stick figures, so I love the creative visual artistry so many people are sharing today. 

The 3 human needs of SDT:

  1. Autonomy: people have a need to feel that they are the masters of their own destiny and that they have at least some control over their lives; most importantly, people have a need to feel that they are in control of their own behavior.  
  2. Competence: people have a need to build their competence and develop mastery over tasks that are important to them.
  3. Relatedness (aka, Connection): people need to have a sense of belonging and connectedness with others; each of us needs other people.

Our profession demands competency, it claims autonomy and it projects connectedness.

I spend hours each week having conversations with passionate therapists struggling with finding those needs.  The truth... the APTA nor any employer will not solve this issue as long as we give control to others.

Those individuals with the courage to take action and who are willing to trust themselves will find what they seek, true belonging (thank you Brene Brown and Maya Angelou).

The need for competence and mastery is one in which we are all too familiar with, from our initial graduate work to ongoing continuing education courses (I've taken my fair share including in last 3 years alone over $35k worth)!  I am constantly reminded how complex the human body and mind are, and how much more there is to learn to serve my clients and help each one find health, no matter the diagnosis or situation.  Lifelong learning is more than a responsibility, it's the only way you progress.

This level of commitment and investment in my competency provided significant autonomy that opened the door to endless opportunities and choices, many of which I never dreamed possible.  It also opened my eyes to what was truly congruent with my beliefs as a therapist, and how to live those beliefs.  That I find to be one of the greatest pursuits of most therapists.  

And finally, relatedness is something that has evolved for me from being a clinical mentor to seemingly finding myself as the 'go to person' as confidant, friend, peer, coach.  What I do know.... a certain amount of margin is needed to truly care and connect with others in an authentic and impactful way.  Sure, experience and insights provide value in a relationship, but time is an amazing gift in which to sit across from a mentor and hear the messages that transform us and let us know we are truly cared for.  This provides a deeper meaning in our relationships.  And we know those that have given of themselves to guide us to live our best versions of ourselves, personally and professionally.  That sense of belonging is an area that many therapists are seeking as the demands of a job can leave little margin to connect.

What is interwoven among these 3 needs.... the dynamic between self and others.  Optimal performance and well being demand elements driven by both self and others.  To the extent that we have achieved competence and developed autonomy in our journeys, there is very much the need to be a part of and to belong.  And that can take many forms.  For me, working with my 'tribe' of outside the box thinkers, who pursue levels of self discovery and mastery, who act on behalf of others, and serve beyond themselves gives me the relatedness and inner joy that enriches me each day.

For each of you.... go beyond your competency and find your autonomy and relatedness.  It will transform your life.


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