Donna Behr PT, MS, DPT, PRC
How did you become interested in PRI® and when did you attend your first course?
My first course was Myokinematic Restoration with James Anderson in Arlington Virginia in April 2010. I vividly remember the shock and excitement I felt at being presented with a major paradigm shift after 25 years of “traditional” clinical practice. James had added a whole different perspective to the way I pictured the body working – and I wasn't sure where in my brain to put it. I have always loved the biomechanical basis in which my PT studies were rooted – and now here I was listening to a new, yet totally sensible approach to kinematics where it’s a given that muscles are positioned differently on the right vs. the left.
I went to this course thanks to my dear friend Karen Taylor Soiles whom I first met in September 1979 when we were freshman PT students at Northeastern University. Karen and some colleagues were hosting the Myokin course and she told me that I absolutely had to come and hear what the Postural Restoration Institute was all about. I guess the rest is history!
What has been the biggest challenge with starting a new practice?
The first challenge was to change my mind-set. I had never imagined myself NOT being an employee in an established institution where I was surrounded by extraordinary colleagues, thriving on the clinical conversations and friendships that were part of belonging to a department. Leaving this sense of stability and security was not easy.
But the time came last year when I craved the autonomy to create my own space for practicing physical therapy. It became apparent that I needed more time with clients in a quiet environment in order to enhance and optimize their experience of PT and PRI work. My practice has totally changed as I developed a deeper awareness of our bodies' patterns in 3D (ingrained preferences, influences of sensorium, tone, and reflex). As I learned how to manage my own body, I became more passionate about wanting to pass that knowledge on to my clients – and to altering the positions and habits that they use for movement and rest to achieve powerful results. The best path I saw for doing all this was to start my own practice.
So I started my practice in December 2015 – with all the trepidations you’d expect (will I have clients? will it make money? will it be weird being alone?). Thankfully it has worked out well so far thanks in large part to the fact that my clinic is a recognized Postural Restoration Center (the first and only one in southern New England at this time) – so people find me through the PRI website.
What would you say to other PTs who are considering taking a PRI class or becoming Postural Restoration Certified™?
I recommend entering into the world of PRI courses with an open mind. You need to be open to the paradigm shift that you will be presented. PTs are used to continuing education courses that are organized around a series of techniques, so one expects to simply be adding more to one's tool box. PRI courses provide this, but to me the greater value comes in understanding the evaluation framework. It can take some time to really appreciate this difference.
A common question is which course to start with. For PTs who work with a varied client base, I recommend starting with "PRI Integration for the Home". After having taken all of the primary courses, my Massachusetts General Hospital colleagues thought that this would have been the best starting point rather than any of the primary courses. The affiliate courses summarize the science of PRI into a rich 1/2 day presentation followed by evaluation and treatment techniques that are easier to teach to a wider variety of patients, making it easier to put into practice. That said, the course is as integrated as I&I.
When I first took Postural Respiration, the speaker asked who in the audience had taken this course before. A few participants raised their hands. I thought it odd that one would take the same course more than once, which is now very ironic given that I have become a PRI course junkie. Taking the time for multiple courses has given me the knowledge to pursue my PRC, continue to strengthen my understanding, and to develop a wonderful network of like-minded colleagues.
What areas of patient care excite you the most?
I get most excited about modifying how people envision their bodies and teaching them how they can positively affect their physical well-being. My clients tend to be ones who have tried more "traditional" therapies and are looking for different strategies. These clients come to therapy feeling that their body and pain/symptoms have taken over and that they have lost control. I love changing that mind-set using PRI.
Who have been your mentor(s) in your career?
I met my first true mentors when I was enrolled in the PT Masters Degree program at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Institute of Health Professions. My two program and thesis advisors were Daniel Dyrek and David Krebs. They provided me with a taste of the huge impact that great mentoring can have. Dan and Dave helped me appreciate the value of greater depth of analysis about what my clinical input was affecting. Through them I also had the opportunity to participate in clinical research and to co-author some work. Dan has continued to encourage and support me through my career development in many ways. Most recently, he helped me with my transition from hospital to private practice. Sadly, Dave Krebs passed away a few years ago. Those of us who had him as a research advisor were very fortunate.
During the 10 years prior to opening my practice, I worked in an out patient satellite clinic of MGH. My supervisor, Jane Loureiro, has the most amazing skills in observation, palpation and manual treatment. She taught me many things about being a better clinician, and helped introduce PRI methodologies to our MGH colleagues by understanding how to integrate them seamlessly into her own practice first. She had noticed elements of PRI patterning in her patients for years, and embraced the unique ways PRI could approach these issues.
Who have been your mentors within PRI?
First of all, let me thank all the people in the PRI network who kindly answer my phone calls and emails. For me, not having another PRI-trained therapist nearby has been the biggest challenge in my process of studying and applying a PRI approach to my patient care. The wisdom of the Institute in allowing certified therapists to retake courses at a discount and to participate as lab TAs has also been incredibly valuable. The time spent has allowed me to develop a network of friends and colleagues who I can call to brainstorm and to share patient successes and frustrations. My first and most dear PRI colleague is Karen Taylor Soiles. Jen and Chris Poulin have opened their home and practice to me so that I could see how PRI can be integrated into many layers of care. Mike Cantrell must have the most patience of all and I truly appreciate every question answered and PDF shared. It's amazing how many questions are answered by “side lying hip lift”! And then of course there’s Ron for whom I have the utmost appreciation for being willing to share his ideas and be a supportive friend to all of us. Thank you Ron!
How do you go about mentoring others in your profession?
Being the only PRC in Massachusetts has its pros and cons. The greatest benefit is that people interested in PRI call me when they want to observe treatments and geek out. I have had the privilege of being visited by PTs, strength coaches, personal trainers and all sorts of students. My clients enjoy learning from a wide variety of practitioners, as we discuss their case. When I was at MGH, we hosted 3 PRI courses. In addition, I have been a lab instructor at courses hosted by Northeastern University and Central Mass PT. I have also been invited to present PRI topics at the sports performance departments of local universities.
What types of activities do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Besides going to PRI courses and reading manuals? I absolutely love to hike in the White Mountains of NH year round. The views from the high peaks are spectacular! I also enjoy kayaking, bike riding, skiing, quilting and cooking. Ah yes, and the value of an afternoon nap.