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Interview with Tony Rodriguez, COTA

The following is our interview with Jose Antonio (Tony) Rodriguez Jr, COTA. Tony practices in Laredo, TX where he is also studying Athletic Training at the Texas A & M University. He recently attended Pelvic Floor Level 1 and plans to continue pursuing pelvic rehabilitation with Herman & Wallace. He was kind enoguh to share some thoughts about his experiences with us. Thank you, Tony!

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I am a COTA in Laredo where I was born and raised. My goal is to provide pelvic floor therapy to my community. I have been in school for quite some time. I have associate's degrees as a paramedic and occupational therapy assistant. I studied nursing briefly (finished my junior year). My bachelors is in psychology. I’m currently studying athletic training in Texas A & M International University in Laredo. My ultimate academic goal is acquiring my doctorate in physical therapy.Tony with instructors Dustienne Miller and Heather Rader

What/who inspired you to become involved in pelvic rehabilitation?
I first came across pelvic floor when reading the description of a CE course where it mentions its relation to SI joint dysfunction so I figured I could use this as a trouble shooting tool for those athletes that had recurrent low back pain or suspected SI problems. I figured at the very least I would know when I was confronted with something that I needed to refer. Little did I know how important of a “puzzle piece” this type of knowledge would become in helping me see a more complete picture of the human body. I was often confronted with athletes that would have recurring lower back pain, hip pain, glute tightness, sciatic nerve pain, adductor tightness or pain, and felt I was missing something to be able to help them. Even with a basic understanding of pelvic floor rehab I was able to help athletes with the previously mentioned complaints. As my understanding grew, I felt it was necessary I take these Herman & Wallace courses so that I could actually treat my patients in a holistic manner.

What is your clinical environment like, and how can you implement pelvic rehab into your practice?
My clinical environment varies between outpatient pediatrics, outpatient geriatrics, and D2 university athletics. I use my pelvic rehabilitation tool box at the university. Mostly I am still learning but I try to screen for and educate my athletes on the important role the pelvic floor muscles play in every activity they carry through out the day. I try to convey the importance not just in sports but also in activities of daily living such as any difficulty with going to the bathroom to pain during sex. I figure the more young people I educate about pelvic floor therapy the better they’ll be to make an informed decision today or later on in life.

Do you feel your background and training as a COTA brings anything unique to your pelvic rehab patients?
I could probably say that my COTA training makes it easier to pick up on some of the behaviors people might be relying on to carry out their day while dealing with pelvic floor issues. They may or may not be aware they have a pelvic floor dysfunction but simply think that’s just how they are. Behaviors such as avoiding social events because such activities don’t fit well with their voiding schedule.

How does your background as a COTA influence your approach to patient care?
My approach as a COTA would force me to see a balance in life. I would have to ask myself all the ways pelvic floor dysfunction may affect my client's daily activities from the basics like voiding, resting, sleep, to enjoying their leisure activities. A person cannot rest adequately if they’re in pain. He or she cannot enjoy social activities being worried of an urge.

What patients or conditions are you hoping to start treating as you continue learning pelvic rehab?
I wish to continue learning and exposing myself to different areas pelvic floor rehabilitation may take me. I wish to look at this therapy through a wide lens. This way I can learn, help many, and keep myself a well-rounded therapist. If in the future I feel more drawn to a specific area I wish to pull from all the different areas I should have learned by then.

What role do you see pelvic health playing in general well-being?
I often tell my athletes that there is probably not a single gross motor movement that doesn’t cross the pelvic region directly or through fascia connection. It is simply how we are built. To try and pretend or ignore the importance of the pelvic floor is just leaving our patients out of the appropriate care they need. And now that I know about the role pelvic floor muscles have in our body it would be unethical not to advocate for my patients’ COMPLETE well-being, pelvic floor muscles included.

What's next for you and your practice?
My short-term goal is acquiring my athletic training state license. After that continue with the last four or five prerequisite classes I need to apply to a DPT program. The DPT is my ultimate goal within the next five or six years.

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The Many Voices in the Pelvic Rehabilitation Choir

"Over the next 30 years, growth in demand for services to care for female pelvic floor disorders will increase at twice the rate of growth of the same population. Demand for care for pelvic floor disorders comes from a wide age range of women… These findings have broad implications for those responsible for administering programs to care for women, allocating research funds in women’s health and geriatrics, and training physicians to meet this rapidly escalating demand"
- Karl M. Luber, MD, Sally Boero, MD, Jennifer Y. Choe, MD. The demographics of pelvic floor disorders: Current observations and future projections. Presented at the Sixty-seventh Annual Meeting of the Pacific Coast Obstetrical and Gynecological Society, Kamuela, Hawaii, November 14-19, 2000.

Patients with pelvic floor dysfunction have suffered for many years without knowing the names of their ailments. Chronic pain, constipation, incontinence, sexual dysfunction, and other pelvic conditions have a long history of being under-reported, misdiagnosed, and untreated. Shelby Hadden recounts in her animated documentary "Tightly Wound" being told by her doctor to treat vaginismus with a glass of wine before intimacy. She is not the only woman to be given such advice. It is going to take many voices to break through the years of misinformation and stigma that has impeded patients' ability to get treatment.

Thankfully the healthcare landscape has begun to shift. We seem to be on the cusp of a renaissance in pelvic care as patients become more aware of their treatment options. It is the mission of Herman & Wallace to help patients access a higher quality of care, through our courses and through our practitioner directory at https://pelvicrehab.com/. Patient education resources and practitioner directories are a big step in bringing about this awakening, and we believe that the more information the public has access to, the better. Ours is just one of several websites where patients can find learn about their conditions and find qualified clinicians to evaluate them and craft treatment regimens.

We hope that patients find pelvicrehab.com useful, and also encourage them to check out some other great resources. The Section on Women's Health operates a PT Locator available at https://ptl.womenshealthapta.org, and Pelvic Guru has been doing incredible work (see their robust patient portal at https://pelvicguru.com/for-patients/). Patients can also find helpful information via the International Pelvic Pain Society (IPPS) website at https://pelvicpain.org.

As an Institute, we've had the privilege of working with so many impassioned therapists, and we are excited to see so many of them out there in the world spreading awareness and knowledge so that patients get the care they need. We know there are many others working in the field and we hope you will tag and share your patient resources in the comments on this post.

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An Interview with Featured Practitioner Adina Leifer, PT, DPT, PRPC

Adina Leifer, PT, DPT, PRPC recently passed the Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioner Certification exam and was kind enough to discuss her career with us. Adina Leifer, PT, DPT, PRPC practices at ABLe Pelvic Physical Therapy in Atlanta, GA. Thank you for the interview, Dr. Leifer, and congratulations on earning your certification!

Adina Leifer, PT, DPT, PRPCHow did you get involved in the pelvic rehabilitation field?
After graduating from Touro College, and receiving my Doctorate of Physical Therapy. I began to work in an outpatient sports rehab setting. While looking for continuing education courses, I happened upon Herman and Wallace through the Touro College website. They were hosting PF1 at their New York City campus. I knew nothing about pelvic health and rehabilitation at that time. Holly Herman and Tracy Sher taught that first class, after 3 days of class, I was hooked. I knew that pelvic health and wellness was my calling. It has been 9 years since I took that first course and I could not be happier.

What patient population do you find most rewarding in treating and why?
Not sure I can pick one diagnosis or patient population as my favorite. I feel that with each patient that comes to see me, they have either lost ability or do not have normal function of their bladder, bowel or sexual functioning. When I can treat them successfully and educate patients in proper strength and mobility of their pelvic muscles. When I can provide them with the tools so that they can function in their lives, there is nothing more rewarding then that.

Describe your clinical practice:
I currently have my own outpatient practice in Atlanta, GA. I treat adult men and women with any and all pelvic muscle dysfunction and diagnoses.

What has been your favorite Herman & Wallace Course and why?
My favorite course from Herman & Wallace was the capstone course given by Nari Clemons and Jennafer Vande Vegte. I felt this course was informative with practical hands on information for everyday patient treatment. As well as, really helping me to prepare for the PRPC exam.

What motivated you to earn PRPC?
Having practiced for over 9 years and taken many courses through Herman & Wallace, I felt my knowledge and experience made me a specialist. As I was building my own practice, I felt that I wanted the credentials and letters after my name to prove that I was truly a specialist in this field.

What advice would you give to physical therapists interested in earning PRPC?
Go for it! Study the coursework and anatomy. Trust in the knowledge that you have and take the test! You will be very happy that you did.

Certified Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioners have experience treating a wide variety of pelvic floor dysfunction conditions in men and women throughout the lifecycle. Each certified practitioner has passed a comprehensive exam, and has directly treated pelvic patients for more than 2,000 hours. To learn more about the Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioner Certification, visit our certification page.

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Our care is as important as our patients

This post is part two of Nari Clemon's series on practitioner burnout, compassion fatigue, and the story of a pelvic rehab therapist who struggled to care for herself while caring for patients. Read part one here.

There is a point where caring so much and wanting to help becomes counter-productive to us, until we burn out. We can develop true compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue makes us feel apathetic, spent, and sometimes even jaded or cranky. But, how do we turn that caring off in time? Our compassion is what led us to this field in the first place.

That day, I talked to my colleague and close friend, whom I was teaching with, Jen VandeVegte. Jen and I both felt that conversation was a wake-up call. We talked about seeing this same scenario at our courses: so many amazing therapists getting spent, and our best therapists getting burnt out. People were coming back with enhanced skills course after course, but many of them were looking weary and tired...

In the prior years, Jen and I were both trying to be mindful and intentional. But, it hadn’t been enough in our own lives. I remember thinking, “I’m mindful I’m getting drained and there is a creeping sensation of fatigue as I am working with this patient. Now what?” There seemed to be some pitfalls many of us were getting trapped in. We noticed there were certain patients who drained us more: when the role was therapist as hero and patient as victim. There were themes of not being able to leave the patient stories at work, finding ourselves laughing less, being less adventurous. There also seemed to be a link with empathy. Those of us who were more empathic carried burdens differently than our more concrete minded peers.

For myself, I had to hit bottom to learn how to climb back out. It got to the point where I didn’t honestly want to go to my thriving private practice and treat patients. I was treating more and more complex patients and leaving work drained, despite having a repertoire of advanced skills. I remember consulting with many people trying to understand how to stop this process of my patients’ illnesses and moods bleeding into my space and my body. People told me all kinds of things: “Imagine wearing gloves that are impenetrable”, “Picture a plexiglass box around yourself”, or “Just decide it is a one way flow.” None if it worked for me. I studied Reiki and worked with therapists. Still, I was so spent after treating patients. When I moved from Indiana to Portland, I took a whole year off of work with a singular mission: get healthy and figure out how to stay that way in my work. There was no book on this. There were some crazy stories and consults that made me realize I was heading in the wrong direction, and I finally learned the key concepts that changed my life.

And oddly enough, my great friend, Jen, also had to transform. We talked honestly and shared our failures, fears and successes as we learned. We committed to being real and honest about what parts of us were stuck in old, unhelpful paradigms. Some of these were playing the hero, feeling like there should not be limits on our compassion, not holding boundaries with what was ours to own, facing difficult things within ourselves, learning how to deeply own the space in our own bodies, and accepting that as intuitive, empathic women, we can’t expect ourselves to reproduce a very masculine, directive method of treating that denies so much of who we actually are. We also changed how we dialogued with patients from the outset. We read and researched and learned how to apply a shared responsibility model from the first contact with our patients and how to hold that model during the course of care. We then applied more pain theory and how to educate patients on those aspects of their own recovery to encourage a model of mind-body wellness and responsibility for their own reframing with our guidance. I created a mediation for pelvic health CD, so patients had a clear way to practice these home programs.

Jen and I both found that as we healed and re-framed there was a great freedom and honesty that emerged in our lives and our practices. We would get together to teach Capstone and were filled with gratitude for how much had shifted and that work no longer felt like a burden. Our lives were more balanced and we were physically, mentally and emotionally stronger. We felt like we had found the holy grail of balanced practices.

But, there we stood, teaching so many of our peers who were clearly in the same quicksand that had been plaguing us in the past. Where could our colleagues who were at our series courses go to learn how to do this job and navigate their days differently? How could they feel as good at the end of the day as they did before they saw patients? This was the training many pelvic therapists needed to thrive in this field AND their life, but it had taken us so many years. This was our call to action.

We all take courses on how to help our patients and how to reach those few difficult patients and help them. Yet, as medical professionals, we do not have enough training in how to care for ourselves. At some point, we all need to realize that our care is as important as our patients. Our wellness, physical, mental, and emotional also matter and may actually be necessary to keep helping patients. Enjoying our lives is no less important. It is an investment in your family, your future patients, and yourself to take a few days to peel back and deeply examine the root of why work is so taxing and come up with a clear, individualized plan to take your life, joy and passion back…without leaving pelvic rehab.

We need all of you in this field. We want to help you stay in this field and stay in it well! Please come join us in Boundaries, Self-Care and Meditation for a retreat-like weekend to change the framework of your practice and commit to your own wellness as a provider. Come learn how to shift dynamics from your first interaction with patients and how to hold that space. You are worth it!

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"Pelvic rehab is wrong for me"

Last year, I was teaching our Pelvic Floor Series Capstone course. It was the end of day three of the course. Most, students were thanking us for a course that filled in so many gaps in their practice and taught them a whole new way to use their hands. They were feeling energized and excited to bring all the new information back to their patients who had plateaued, so this was a surprising and atypical comment. To those of you who are unfamiliar with Capstone, it is a course for experienced pelvic therapist who have already taken three of the series courses, and it was written to address truly challenging patients, to learn to problem solve with manual therapies, to address all the things that my co-authors and I wished we had known five years into our field. It teaches complex problem solving and more receptive and dynamic use of their hands. So, usually, by this course, therapists are fully committed to this field and geeked-out to get so many more pearls. They are usually on board and looking for more sophisticated tools.

As one student, Soniya (name changed) was walking out, she said, “I took this course to figure out if I want to treat pelvic patients, and I definitely don’t. It confirmed what I already knew about pelvic rehab being wrong for me.” I was so confused at that point. All I could say in that moment was, “Can you please tell me more about that? I’m interested.”

Soniya went on to explain that she used to be a pelvic therapist. She said she loved it at first. But, she got so enmeshed with her patients and found she stopped having energy for the rest of her life: her kids, her health, her own enjoyment. She said she would go into her “dark cave” treatment room with her patients, isolated with them one at a time, and come out spent and depleted at the end of the day. She clarified that it was rewarding helping people so profoundly, but there came a point when she had to choose between helping others and saving herself. She changed back to outpatient ortho, choosing to treat in the gym, dynamically interacting with other PT’s all day and not being one-on-one in a room with patients and her problems. She also changed to part time, stating she just couldn’t be around patients five days a week anymore.

I understood. I totally got it. I hear this all the time at courses from other pelvic PT’s: that they love what they are doing, and they feel called to this line of help, but ultimately, they are depleted. I have been there. Pelvic rehab can get to be a little confusing with all the blurred lines. There are so many boundaries that are different. We ask our patients questions normal PT’s don’t. We do treatments in areas that other therapists don’t normally touch or see. We are one on one in a private room with our clients. We know more private details about our patients than most of their friends and family. And…we care deeply and listen intently….sometimes many hours a day to stories of other people’s pain, fears, and stress. Often, we are a lone pelvic practitioner in a practice with other kinds of PT’s. Let’s face it, our colleagues who don’t do pelvic rehab think we are a little weird! With HIPPAA, we can’t talk to our coworkers about our heart wrenching stories. We are also not trained psychologists, and our training in PT school really didn’t address how to deal with all we face in a day, especially the psychological aspects.

A recent study found nursing students show compassion fatigue before they even graduate and that “Therefore, knowledge of compassion fatigue and burnout and the coping strategies should be part of nursing training”. Yet, as pelvic therapists we are taught to recognize signs of trauma in our patients, but we are not yet taught how to stop ourselves from being traumatized.

I asked “Soniya” if it had worked for her: changing back to outpatient ortho and going part time. She said it had for the most part. She felt she had her life and energy back for the most part.

So, I asked “Soniya” how she landed at Capstone? What brought her here? It turns out her boss had asked her to come to Capstone and consider going back to pelvic rehab. So, she came and heard about all kinds of problem solving and new research with very complex patients at Capstone: cancer, multiple surgeries, systemic inflammation, endometriosis, and even gender affirming/change surgeries. She learned about complex hormonal issues, pharmacology and anatomy she hadn’t ever considered as an experienced pelvic therapist. She spent around 10 hours that weekend in lab, learning new ways to use her hands to make change. At the end, she said the thought of going “back in the cave” with such complex patients and having her hands on them all day long was draining to her. She just couldn’t go back.

There is a point where caring so much and wanting to help becomes counter-productive to us, until we burn out. We can develop true compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue makes us feel apathetic, spent, and sometimes even jaded or cranky. But, how do we turn that caring off in time? Our compassion is what led us to this field in the first place.

This post is a two-part series on practitioner burnout and compassion fatigue from faculty member Nari Clemons, PT, PRPC. Nari helped to create the advanced Pelvic Floor Series Capstone course, which is available several times each year. Nari is also the author and instructor for Boundaries, Self-Care, and Meditation, Lumbar Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment, and Sacral Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment. Stay tuned for part two in an upcoming post on The Pelvic Rehab Report!


Mathias CT, Wentzel DL. Descriptive study of burnout, compassion fatigue and compassionsatisfaction in undergraduate nursing students at a tertiary education institution in KwaZulu-Natal. Curationis. 2017 Sep 22;40(1):e1-e6. doi: 10.4102/curationis.v40i1.1784. PMID: 2904178

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The OT's Path to Pelvic Rehab

Tiffany Ellsworth Lee MA, OTR, BCB-PMD joined the Herman & Wallace faculty to teach a course on biofeedback along with Jane Kaufman, PT, M.Ed, BCB-PMD. The month of April is Occupational Therapy month, and we are celebrating by highlighting the role that Occupational Therapists play in pelvic floor rehabilitation. Tiffany founded a biofeedback program at Central Texas Medical Center in San Marcos in 2004, and currently runs her a pelvic rehab private practice .

Working in this area of biofeedback is extremely rewarding and fulfilling to help change peoples’ lives. I have a private practice now exclusively dedicated to treating patients with pelvic floor dysfunction. I became involved in working with patients with incontinence and pelvic floor disorders because of many opportunities along my career path. I have been an Occupational Therapist since 1994. Both of my parents are also OTs, so I think I was born to do this!

Erica Vitek, MOT, OTR, BCB-PMD, PRPC wrote a blog recently about the role of OTs in pelvic health. She writes:

“As we look closer at the framework and the definition of OT (Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process, 3rd edition 2014), there is clear evidence that the occupational therapist (OT) has a role in the treatment of pelvic health conditions. Importantly, occupations are defined by this document as ‘…various kinds of life activities in which individuals, groups, or populations engage, including activities of daily living (ADL), instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), rest and sleep, education, work, play, leisure, and social participation.”

The clearest examples of the OT’s role in pelvic health occupations within this section include:

  1. ADL section: toileting and hygiene (continence needs, intentional control of bowel movements and urination) and sexual activity.
  2. IADLs section: sleep participation (sustaining sleep without disruption, performing nighttime care of toileting needs).
  3. Achieving full participation in work, play, leisure, and social activities, requires one to be able to maintain continence in a socially acceptable manner in which they can feel confident and comfortable to fulfill their roles and duties.

"We believe that the great patient need that exists can be better served by having trained OTs able to treat pelvic health conditions"

How to get started as an OT

Occupational therapists wishing to pursue pelvic floor have a few options. The first thing is to find a pelvic floor clinical setting or work with their respective settings to check to see if they can start a women's health program with a strong focus on pelvic floor. OTs quite often do not start out in pelvic health directly after school and since this is a newer area as compared to other certifications such as the NDT and PNF it takes a little bit of research, time and effort to find one’s exact niche. To get started, an OT should seek out courses that teach the basics of bladder and bowel management. It is important to understand the anatomy and physiology of the bladder, bowel, and sexual systems.

Incontinence and pelvic floor disorders have a profound impact on occupation, the daily activities that give life meaning! OTs should have a larger role in treating this patient population. Offering hope to our patients is imperative when he/she is dealing with pelvic floor dysfunction!

Keep an eye out for an upcoming post from Tiffany with some inspiring clinical case studies. You can join Tiffany and Jane Kaufman in Biofeedback for Pelvic Muscle Dysfunction to get lots of hands-on time with surface eletromyography, and to work toward BCIA certification!

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Celebrating Occupational Therapy Month by Celebrating OTs in Pelvic Rehab!

The Institute has welcomed occupational therapists since our founding in 2006. In addition, three OTs: Richard Sabel, MA, MPH, OTR, GCFP, Erica Vitek, MOT, OTR, BCB-PMD, PRPC, and Tiffany Ellsworth Lee MA, OTR, BCB-PMD all teach courses as members of our faculty. (Erica Vitek is also one of several OTs who holds certification as a Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioner through H&W).

Recently, the Institute was contacted by an Occupational Therapist who has attended many of our courses, regarding a challenge she was experiencing obtaining CEUs in her state (Oregon) for courses on Pelvic Rehab and Biofeedback. In light of this, the Institute has been discussing with some of the occupational therapists on our faculty, as well as representatives of the BCIA and Marquette University, and how to spread awareness about and recognition of OT’s roles in pelvic rehab. Below, we’ve asked faculty member Erica to share a bit more about her journey and the role of the pelvic rehab occupational therapist.

Physical RehabilitationAs an OT student, I had a professor who brought in practicing clinicians to discuss their unique roles out in the field. Pelvic health happened to be one of the topics of the day. I was completely intrigued by the clinician, who had such passion about the role of OT in pelvic health. It became clear that helping people with impaired basic bodily functions was imperative to fulfilling life roles and participation; it was OT. I knew from that moment that I wanted to help people deal with these challenging, private issues.

In my journey, I did not immediately start out in pelvic health, but instead in an acute care hospital that had a women’s health program with a strong interest in pelvic health. A very experienced OT and her team of 2 additional OTs were doing great work in that department already. The window of opportunity opened for me to mentor with that group and I eventually was able to begin to get my own referrals and develop a robust hospital-based outpatient practice. At that time, ALL of my experience had been with OTs doing this work and I was naïve to the fact that outside of my world, most of the clinicians doing this type of work were physical therapists (PT). I asked to join a highly trained and skilled group within my health system of all women’s health PTs. Overtime, I was able to demonstrate my level of competency within the group of PTs and contribute valuable things to our organization. Herman and Wallace Rehabilitation Institute was instrumental in my quest to demonstrate competency as they allowed OTs a clear pathway for enrollment in their coursework and application for the Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioner Certification examination. I can be proud to have those credentials to my name.

My challenges in the area of pelvic health practice have thankfully been minimal, nearly nonexistent, and it has come to my awareness in recent weeks that this is not the case for OTs around the country trying to develop themselves as pelvic health practitioners. My original OT mentors reassured me with the AOTA’s published document titled Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain & Process, detailed a clear place in the role of pelvic health. This document has gone through 3 revisions over the course of its first publication in 2002. The 2nd edition was published in 2008 and the 3rd edition in 2014. I’d like to cite a few important areas of the document that I find to be helpful in an OT’s quest to demonstrate our role in pelvic health rehabilitation.

"Occupational therapy services are provided for habilitation, rehabilitation, and promotion of health and wellness for clients with disability- and non-disability-related needs"

I’d first like to quote the definition occupational therapy according to the 3rd edition, “occupational therapy is defined as the therapeutic use of everyday life activities (occupations) with individuals or groups for the purpose of enhancing or enabling participation in roles, habits, and routines in home, school, workplace, community, and other settings. Occupational therapy practitioners use their knowledge of the transactional relationship among the person, his or her engagement in valuable occupations, and the context to design occupation-based intervention plans that facilitate change or growth in client factors (body functions, body structures, values, beliefs, and spirituality) and skills (motor, process, and social interaction) needed for successful participation. Occupational therapy practitioners are concerned with the end result of participation and thus enable engagement through adaptations and modifications to the environment or objects within the environment when needed. Occupational therapy services are provided for habilitation, rehabilitation, and promotion of health and wellness for clients with disability- and non-disability-related needs. These services include acquisition and preservation of occupational identity for those who have or are at risk for developing an illness, injury, disease, disorder, condition, impairment, disability, activity limitation, or participation restriction. “

As we look closer at the framework and the definition of OT, there is clear evidence that the occupational therapist (OT) has a role in the treatment of pelvic health conditions. Importantly, occupations are defined by this document as “…various kinds of life activities in which individuals, groups, or populations engage, including activities of daily living (ADL), instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), rest and sleep, education, work, play, leisure, and social participation.” The clearest examples of the OT’s role in pelvic health occupations within this section include: 1) ADL section: toileting and hygiene (continence needs, intentional control of bowel movements and urination) and sexual activity. 2) IADLs section: sleep participation (sustaining sleep without disruption, performing nighttime care of toileting needs). 3) Achieving full participation in work, play, leisure, and social activities, requires one to be able to maintain continence in a socially acceptable manner in which they can feel confident and comfortable to fulfill their roles and duties.

"We believe that the great patient need that exists can be better served by having trained OTs able to treat pelvic health conditions"

Client factors as defined in this document are “Specific capacities, characteristics, or beliefs that reside within the person and that influence performance in occupations. Client factors include values, beliefs, and spirituality; body functions; and body structures.” Client factors are further identified as affecting the performance skills and participation of the clients we work with. OT’s role per definition is to “facilitate change and growth in client factors”. In order to fully enhance our client’s performance skills/participation related to change and growth in client factors, OT’s have to examine the whole person, including pelvic health impairments, which have a negative influence on performance. Within client factors, the document defines body structures as, “Anatomical parts of the body, such as organs, limbs, and their components that support body function.” Within this category, one can refer to multiple items named that relate to the care that OTs provide in pelvic health rehabilitation, including but not limited to, structures related to the digestive, metabolic, and endocrine systems and structures related to the genitourinary and reproductive systems.

Since the first email from this individual in Oregon, we have been reached by several other OTs asking about similar challenges and questions about scope of practice. Because of our commitment to honoring the AOTA’s Practice Framework, and because we believe that the great patient need that exists can be better served by having trained OTs able to treat pelvic health conditions, the Institute is working with members of our faculty and professional network to advocate for recognition of OTs in pelvic rehab and resolve confusion about scope of practice. For those interested in further resources, please check out:


American Occupational Therapy Association. (2002). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 56, 609-639.
American Occupational Therapy Association. (2008). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (2nd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 62, 625-683.
American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68, S1-S48.

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Practitioner Burnout

While my dad was visiting Michigan, we had the day to ourselves as my kids were in school. I was so excited to have quality time with my dad. Unfortunately it was pouring down rain. We decided on a leisurely brunch and then a movie. Dad chose the movie, “Wind River.” While not a movie I would normally pick, I was happy to go along. A little more than half way through…there was a horribly violent scene against a young women. I panicked, plugged my ears and closed my eyes. Unfortunately some images were burned into the back of my mind. When the movie was over, I remained seated and tears just came. My dad held me while I cried. I was able to calm down and leave the theater, but the images continued to bother me. During the next few days, I made it a priority to care for myself and allow my nervous system to process and heal.

What happened to me? I have never had any traumatic personal experience. Why did I react so strongly? I talked with my therapist about it and she suggested I might have experienced secondary traumatic stress. We know, as pelvic health therapists, we need extra time to hear the “stories” of new patients. We do our best to create a safe space for them so they can trust us and we can help them discover pathways to healing. Yet no one has taught us what we are supposed to do with the traumatic stories our patients share. How are we to cope with holding space for their pain? How do we put on a happy face as we exit the room to get the next patient?

Teaching Capstone over the last few years, Nari Clemons and I have talked with many of you who were feeling emotionally overloaded especially when treating chronic pelvic pain and trauma survivors. Some of you were experiencing job burnout, others were deciding maybe it was time for a career shift, away from the pelvis. We realized something needed to be done as our field was losing talented pelvic health therapists. We have also struggled ourselves with various aspects of our profession.

There are no studies that directly look at job burn out, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue among pelvic health physical therapists. Yet these problems are common among social workers, physicians and other people groups in health care. There are individual as well as institutional risk factors that lead to the development of each. The solution, as one self-help module puts it, is developing resilience. A large part of this skill is making self-care a priority. The basics such as adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise are foundational. Meditation, mindfulness, therapy, and spiritual practices, as well as supportive friends/groups are also imperative.

Nari and I realized that training to develop resilience in therapists was missing. Initially we equipped ourselves to have better boundaries, ground ourselves with meditation, mindfulness and exercise, which enhanced our skills in dealing with complex, chronic patients. We compiled what we have learned and want to share it with you. We would like to invite you to attend Holistic Interventions and Meditation: Boundaries, Self-Care, and Dialogue. We have designed this 3 day course to be partially educational and absolutely experiential. We are going to dig deeper into ways to calm our patient’s and our own nervous systems, explore and practice the latest recommendations on treatment of persistent pain, we will mediate and learn about mediation, play with essential oils, learn some new hands on techniques, and support and encourage one another as we build communication skills. We want you to leave feeling refreshed and equipped to continue to treat patients without losing yourself in the process. We want to invest in you so you can continue the investment you have made in your career and avoid job burnout, compassion fatigue and secondary trauma. We invite you to develop the resilience you need for a rewarding career in pelvic health physical therapy by joining us in Tampa this January.


Cieslak, R., Shoji, K., Douglas, A., Melville, E., Luszczynska, A., & Benight, C. C. (2014). A meta-analysis of the relationship between job burnout and secondary traumatic stress among workers with indirect exposure to trauma. Psychological services, 11(1), 75.
Meadors, P., Lamson, A., Swanson, M., White, M., & Sira, N. (2010). Secondary traumatization in pediatric healthcare providers: Compassion fatigue, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress. OMEGA-Journal of Death and Dying, 60(2), 103-128.
Sodeke-Gregson, E. A., Holttum, S., & Billings, J. (2013). Compassion satisfaction, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress in UK therapists who work with adult trauma clients. European journal of psychotraumatology, 4(1), 21869.
Stearns, S., & Benight, C. C. (2016). Organizational Factors in Burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress. In Secondary Trauma and Burnout in Military Behavioral Health Providers (pp. 85-113). Palgrave Macmillan US.

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An Interview with Certified Practitioner Andrea Wood, PT, DPT, PRPC

On November 15th, 2016 a new class of Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioner Certification was crowned! Today we get to celebrate with Andrea Wood, PT, DPT, PRPC from New York. Andrea was kind enough to share some of her thoughts on pelvic rehabilitation and what certification means to her. Thank you Andrea, and congratulations on earning your PRPC credential!

Describe your clinical practice:

I work in an orthopedic clinical practice that has one on one care which I think is valuable. I joined my practice to help offer another view that included pelvic floor knowledge to various patient cases. My coworkers and I collaborate a lot because we both may see things differently, and exchanging ideas is always invaluable for optimal patient outcomes. I really believe the best health care practitioners can admit when they don’t know everything and seek out other viewpoints to learn.
 
How did you get involved in the pelvic rehabilitation field?
I actually had no idea I originally wanted to do pelvic floor rehab. I was lucky to fall into it right out of graduate school up in Boston at a wonderful place called Marathon Physical Therapy. I found it fascinating how important it was to consider in a lot of patients, especially those presenting with hip, back, or pelvic pain. Two years into working, I found out I had mild congenital hip dysplasia in my left hip and underwent a periacetabular osteotomy to correct it. Going through the rehab on the other side as a patient and having to experience what it means to practice a lot of the principles I teach patients made me excited to continue to help people overcome obstacles. I’m a better physical therapist now because of my personal history. It taught me to always give patients the means to keep moving within their means and not provide only passive treatments. My two physical therapists that helped me through that became my biggest role models on how to approach complicated patient problems.
 
What patient population do you find most rewarding in treating and why?
I find it most rewarding to work with pelvic pain patients. I like to think of them as a puzzle. With those patients, I’m an orthopedic physical therapist first, because of how much influence other parts of the body can have on the pelvis. I also am a big advocate of collaborative health care with those patients, and when you bring a team of different views together (i.e. medical doctor, physical therapy, nutritionist, and psychologist to name a few) I find I learn something new each time.
 
If you could get a message out to physical therapists about pelvic rehabilitation what would it be?
It is not just about 3 layers of muscles in your pelvic floor and Kegels. Your pelvis is a center of your body with various biomechanical, vascular, and neurological influences. For example, erectile dysfunction in males can be influenced by pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, cardiovascular health, and psychological or neurological conditions. A woman with painful intercourse could have various contributing factors ranging from a back or hip problem to a dermatological skin issue. I think physical therapists not properly educated on pelvic floor rehab oversimplify it unknowingly.
 
 
What has been your favorite Herman & Wallace Course and why?
My favorite Herman & Wallace course was the Pudendal Neuralgia and Nerve Entrapment. That course opened my eyes up to pain science and how much we really don’t know about pain as a medical community.
 
What lesson have you learned from a Herman & Wallace instructor that has stayed with you?
That the amount of pain a patient may have does not always signify the amount of damage that is present. When patients realize this, they feel a lot more hopeful and in control.
 
What do you find is the most useful resource for your practice?
I love learning from other physical therapy blogs. Blog About Pelvic Pain by Sara Saunder and Julie Weibe’s blogs are two of my favorites to follow. I lend the book Pelvic Pain Explained to a lot of my patients.
 
What motivated you to earn PRPC?
I like to challenge myself, and I felt it was a good test to access areas I need improvement in and should study more or seek out further continuing education.
 
What makes you the proudest to have earned PRPC?
I’m proud to have earned the PRPC because I earned something that I am passionate about. Some people don’t get that blessing.
 
What advice would you give to physical therapists interested in earning PRPC?
Just being passionate and asking a lot of questions about what I don’t know in clinical practice provided me with best tools to prepare for the exam.
 
What is in store for you in the future?
Continuing to learn as much as I can. I plan on seeking out some continuing education in areas of physical therapy like neurology or cardiovascular issues that can all still influence the pelvic floor. I think its important to be a well rounded physical therapist.

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Upcoming Continuing Education Courses

Jan 10, 2020 - Jan 12, 2020
Location: Dominican Hospital - Physical Therapy

Jan 17, 2020 - Jan 19, 2020
Location: Spooner Physical Therapy

Jan 17, 2020 - Jan 19, 2020
Location: Banner Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation

Jan 17, 2020 - Jan 19, 2020
Location: Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital

Jan 24, 2020 - Jan 26, 2020
Location: Nova Southeastern University

Jan 24, 2020 - Jan 26, 2020
Location: UCLA Health

Feb 1, 2020 - Feb 2, 2020
Location: Evergreen Hospital Medical Center

Feb 1, 2020 - Feb 2, 2020
Location: Ochsner Health System

Feb 7, 2020 - Feb 9, 2020
Location: FunctionSmart Physical Therapy

Feb 22, 2020 - Feb 23, 2020
Location: Pacific Medical Centers

Feb 28, 2020 - Mar 1, 2020
Location: Inova Physical Therapy Center

Feb 28, 2020 - Mar 1, 2020
Location: University of North Texas Health Science Center

Feb 28, 2020 - Mar 1, 2020
Location: Novant Health

Feb 28, 2020 - Mar 1, 2020
Location: Rex Hospital

Feb 28, 2020 - Feb 29, 2020
Location: Rex Hospital

Mar 6, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: 360 Sports Medicine & Aquatic Rehabilitation Centers

Mar 6, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center

Mar 6, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: University of Missouri-Smiley Lane Therapy Services

Mar 6, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: Princeton Healthcare System

Mar 6, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: Ochsner Health System

Mar 6, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: Spectrum Health System

Mar 7, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: Veterans Administration - Salt Lake City

Mar 7, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: GWUH Outpatient Rehabilitation Center

Mar 13, 2020 - Mar 15, 2020
Location: Sentara Therapy Center - Princess Anne

Mar 13, 2020 - Mar 15, 2020
Location: Thomas Jefferson University

Mar 13, 2020 - Mar 15, 2020
Location: Franklin Pierce University

Mar 14, 2020 - Mar 15, 2020
Location: Park Nicollet Clinic--St. Louis Park

Mar 20, 2020 - Mar 22, 2020
Location: Allina Hospitals and Clinics

Mar 20, 2020 - Mar 22, 2020
Location: Comprehensive Therapy Services

Mar 20, 2020 - Mar 22, 2020
Location: Shelby Baptist Medical Center