Can physical therapists counsel patients with lifestyle-related health conditions effectively? A systematic review and implications

Physiother Theory Pract. 2012 Nov;28(8):571-87. doi: 10.3109/09593985.2011.654179. Epub 2012 Feb 8.


Objective: Healthcare professionals' competence in health behavior change has lagged behind other clinical competencies despite the well-established relationship between lifestyle behavior and health. We conducted a systematic review to examine whether physical therapists, given their unique practice pattern, can counsel effectively.

Methods: Databases including MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews were assessed from 1950 to July 2010. Studies were limited to the English, German, and Dutch languages. The methodological quality was evaluated (Downs and Black tool).

Results: Seven source articles with a mean quality score of 16.57 ± 4.24 points (range: low = 0; high = 28) were retrieved. Given considerable methodological heterogeneity, the studies were compared in a narrative synthesis. The target populations, types and periods of interventions, outcome measures, and findings were analyzed.

Conclusion: Physical therapists can effectively counsel patients with respect to lifestyle behavior change, at least in the short term. They can be effective health counselors individually or within an interprofessional team.

Practice implications: Multiple health behavior change needs to be a primary twenty-first century clinical competence in physical therapy. Future studies will establish the degree to which effective health counseling augments physical therapy as well as health outcomes, in the long as well as short term.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Counseling*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Care Team
  • Physical Therapists*
  • Professional Role*
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk Reduction Behavior*
  • Young Adult