When playing at work is serious business

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TheraPlay’s Limerick location.

There's an old adage in the world of physical therapy and rehabilitation: “Don't become emotionally attached to a patient.”

But try telling that to a physical therapist who's just watched a six-year-old child take her first steps after years of hard work and struggles.

Such milestones are everyday occurrences for the professionals at Theraplay, Inc., this year's Special Award Winner for “Meaningfulness” in our 2017 Top Workplaces.

Lisa Mackell, PT, is president of Theraplay, a company she founded in 1991. The company’s mission is to provide pediatric therapy services in an environment that will enable a child to maximize their potential.

“For a long time, [pediatric therapists] were forced to squeeze into adult centers or hospitals, and neither was really appropriate,” Mackell said.

As the company's name implies, Mackell believes that kids are most engaged when they're at play. A Theraplay center more closely resembles a daycare than a medical facility.

“Our staff is casually dressed, there are toys everywhere... it's not your typical physical therapy center. It's a win-win, we get to play all day long.”

This year, Theraplay will open its 10th location in the Philadelphia area. “We really strive to be able to see children everywhere — including their homes and school settings,” said Mackell.

Mackell attributes the company's longevity, growth, and success to the dedication of its professionals to making a difference in the lives of their patients.

“Physical therapy is a calling... and that's especially true in the field of pediatrics,” Mackell said.

But for many employees, following their calling means making sacrifices from a professional standpoint.

“Pediatrics is one of the lowest-paying areas of PT,” Mackell said. “It's challenging, because you're always working one-on-one. It's physically demanding, and emotionally, you have to accept that you're not always going to see the desired level of progress.”

Not to mention the fact that pediatric therapists are working with a whole family—not just their patient.  

So why work in pediatrics? In Mackell's eyes, the opportunity to make a lasting impact is unparalleled.

“You're changing these children's lives, and you're helping families learn to make differences in the lives of their children. It takes a very special person — you can't fake your way in pediatrics.”

Over 150 people call Theraplay their professional home, and their comments mirrored Mackell's dedication to providing a meaningful setting where lives are changed every day.

“Helping children gain independence,” “making a real difference in people's lives,” “everyone is here for a purpose,” are just a few reasons Theraplay professionals said they love their jobs.  

And so we revisit that old adage, about removing emotional attachments from the world of physical rehab. As it turns out, the trend is moving in the opposite direction these days. 

"Throughout our industry there's a turn towards finding empathy, being caring,” explained Mackell. “Now they're saying we need to build those attachments to make a difference.”

Mackell can proudly say she and her company are ahead of the curve. If empathy and caring are the waves of the future in physical therapy, Theraplay can expect many more years of growth and success.